TRENTON, N.J. — Ten years after he announced that he was a “gay American” and would resign from office after a scandal-plagued stint as New Jersey governor, Jim McGreevey is back in government, this time mostly as an evangelist for prison reform.
McGreevey, now 57, runs transitional programs for those getting out of prison and returning to Jersey City, where the mayor sees him as a policy and political adviser.
“This is the ideal intersection of faith and service and government policy,” McGreevey said in an Associated Press interview this month.
His speech on Aug. 12, 2004, is “in the rearview mirror,” he said, and he does not see himself as a gay rights trailblazer, though he remains the only person to have served as a governor while openly gay. But he and other observers look back on his speech, and his life until then, as a cautionary tale.
“I think Jim was part of a generation that thought it had to hide who they were in order to be successful in politics. I’m part of a generation that believes I have to be honest in who I am to be successful in politics,” said U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York who in June married his partner of 22 years. “I think his resignation reinforced for a lot of us the need to be honest about who we are.”
When McGreevey officially left office three months after becoming the nation’s first – and so far only – openly gay governor, Massachusetts had just become the first state to recognize same-sex marriage. Now, 19 states, including New Jersey, do.
When McGreevey announced he was gay, there were just a handful of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender elected officials in the county. Now there are about 500 by the count of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. In Maine, openly gay U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud is the nominated Democrat for governor.
While McGreevey’s resignation speech is remembered mostly for his coming out – delivered with his wife at his side and including the line, “My truth is that I am a gay American,” with undertones of defiance and patriotism – the situation was more complicated than that.
There was upset over McGreevey’s attempt to appoint Golan Cipel – with whom McGreevey would later say he had an affair – to be his top homeland security adviser despite having few qualifications and being unable to get federal security clearances. And within weeks after McGreevey’s announcement, two of his campaign donors pleaded to corruption charges and later served time in prison.
He told the AP this month that resigning was the right decision for his family and New Jersey.
After he left office, he studied to become an Episcopalian priest and mostly tried to stay out of public view, though he did write a memoir and promote it with an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” His ex-wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, also wrote a book and appeared on “Oprah.”
In recent years, McGreevey has been promoting changes to the prison system, an issue that became of interest when he was sent to work in a prison while in seminary school. He wants inmates to have access to drug rehabilitation and job training programs so they can reinvent themselves as they return to society.
His prison work was the subject last year of a documentary shown on HBO and made by Alexandra Pelosi, the daughter of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
He is now the executive director of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program, overseeing job training and prisoner re-entry programs in the state’s second-largest city. His salary, which is paid by the city and reimbursed through his program, is $110,000. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said he sometimes relies on McGreevey for political advice.
And McGreevey, who has two daughters, said his life is now an honest one, though he said he now wants to keep details of his private life and the status of his relationship with partner Mark O’Donnell private.
“I can only wish that I had found this path more directly,” he said.
AP Photo Top row, from left, are Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate, Rep. Tammy Baldwin; Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. New York Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney; bottom row, from left, are, Republican U.S. House candidate Richard Tisei of Massachussets; former Arizona state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Democratic Rep. Mark Takano of California.×
AP Photo/Daniel Hulshizer, file New Jersey Gov. James. E. McGreevey, middle, leaves with his wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, left, and his father, Jack McGreevey, following a news conference where he announced his resignation, in Trenton, New Jersey.×
AP Photo/Mel Evans,file Inmates, left, and former Gov. Jim McGreevey, right, laugh as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, second right, makes a joke while answering a question at the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny, New Jersey.×
AP Photo/Daniel Hulshizer,file New Jersey Gov. James. E. McGreevey addresses a news conference, as his wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, and his mother, Veronica McGreevey, right, listen, at the Statehouse in Trenton, New Jersey.×