Ex-Gov. Jim McGreevey seeks second chance, this time as mayor of Jersey City

McGreevey resigned in 2004 after coming out as ‘a gay American’

By: - November 9, 2023 2:36 pm

Former Gov. Jim McGreevey formally launched his bid for Jersey City mayor at El Sabor del Cafe restaurant in the city’s Greenville neighborhood. (Sophie Nieto-Munoz | New Jersey Monitor)

Nearly 20 years after he resigned as the state’s top elected official after admitting to an adulterous affair, Jim McGreevey says he’s ready for a second chance in New Jersey’s political world.

McGreevey, 66, announced Thursday he is running to become Jersey City’s mayor at El Sabor del Cafe, a restaurant on Martin Luther King Drive in the city’s Greenville neighborhood. The announcement attracted local residents and advocates, plus politicos like former Sen. Steve Sweeney and Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.

The former governor, who has the backing of powerful state Sen. Brian Stack, was not shy about referencing the scandal that led to his resignation.

“This election isn’t about yesterday, my yesterday. This election is about our tomorrow and our future. Clearly I’ve made mistakes in my life, for which I acknowledge and I apologize, but I also think that, God willing, I can give something back,” he said.

McGreevey, a Democrat, was the mayor of Woodbridge from 1991 to 2002 and also served in the state Assembly and Senate at that time. He was elected governor in 2001, serving from 2002 to 2004.

His resignation came about because of an extramarital affair he had with Golan Cipel, a man McGreevey hired as a homeland security adviser despite him being unable to obtain the necessary security clearance. Their relationship eventually soured, and in 2004, Cipel threatened to sue McGreevey for sexual harassment. McGreevey then admitted to the affair, famously coming out as a “gay American” before stepping down in November 2004.

Since leaving office, McGreevey has focused on advocacy work with formerly incarcerated individuals. He’s the executive director of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, a nonprofit helping people released from prison connect with jobs, housing, and treatment centers.

In 2013, he was appointed head of a Jersey City nonprofit that he transformed into a prisoner reentry center. He was fired in 2019 over alleged “financial improprieties.” He’s denied the mishandling of funds, citing the nonprofit’s internal audits.

When asked what message he has for young voters who are unfamiliar with his time as governor and just now researching his past, McGreevey urged people to “read the totality of the circumstances.”

“What I’ve done in these last few years, and why I’ve done it — it’s all about what motivates me to do this,” he said. “Hopefully people look at the totality of life and experiences and commitment and hard work and results.”

He said he previously pledged to quit politics but said he understands from doing advocacy work on the outside that systemic change comes from working within government.

He has an “unblemished, ethically responsible” record as Woodbridge mayor, he said.

McGreevey’s announcement comes almost two years before any ballot will be cast in the city’s mayoral election, which is nonpartisan. The city’s current mayor, Steve Fulop, said he will not run for another term so he can seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2025.

Sayegh said he doesn’t find it odd that McGreevey would announce a campaign two years before the election, considering the former governor is reviving his political career.

“McGreevey needs some time to reintroduce himself to people, so I think this gives him ample time to do that. He’s a man on a mission,” he said.

Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea, also a Democrat, is expected to announce his own run for mayor on Nov. 18.

O’Dea has known McGreevey for more than 30 years but said he’s surprised to see the former governor jump back into politics, especially in Jersey City. He attacked McGreevey’s lack of ties to the city — McGreevey was born there before his family moved elsewhere — noting the former governor only returned to Hudson County to work at the job where he was eventually fired.

He accused McGreevey of being “kind of a carpetbagger.”

“We don’t want the outside political bosses or political leaders coming to our town and telling us who we should elect. We can make the case to our voters, and they should be making the choice on who our mayor is going to be,” O’Dea said.

Sweeney, another Democrat who serves as the administrator of the Iron Workers Union Local 11, said the union will support McGreevey.

“He’s an imperfect man. He was a very good mayor. He was a good governor, and he made a couple mistakes,” Sweeney said. “But guess what? So have I, and so have you.”

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.