The drug addicts he works with these days call him “Jim,” but in his glory days he had a fondness for the full title, Gov. James E. McGreevey.
He’s thinner now, and grayer, and his eyes don’t dart around so much when he’s speaking to you. He talks about God a lot, and tending to his soul. And he’s walking the walk, spending his days counseling addicts and doing the legwork to help them find jobs and apartments after prison.
Among the legion of politicians knocked low by scandals connected to sex, McGreevey may be trodding the most humble path of all.
But now he’s watching as Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer rise from the dead, marching back into the game with all signs suggesting that voters are willing to forgive and forget.
So why not McGreevey? Being gay is no longer a disqualifier, at least in New Jersey. And who really remembers his other sins?
Friends have urged him to run for mayor of Plainfield, where he now lives, as a first step back into the game. Is some part of him at least tempted?
“No, never,” McGreevey says. “I’ve made that decision. It doesn’t work. It’s not where I believe I’m at my best.”
If this sounds like an alcoholic vowing to stay away from whiskey, that’s about right. Politics, he says, bring out the worst angels of his nature. It still has its allure, but he is determined to stay sober.
“When I was mayor of Woodbridge, it was just the local VFW, the barber shop, the five-and-dime,” he says. “It was close to the ground, with families and people and a sense of community.
“And what happens when you move up, at least when I moved up, is you become much more removed. And it becomes about money and influence and power and political ink. It’s more charged, and less civil, and more cutting.”
As for Weiner and Spitzer, McGreevey makes no judgment. Maybe they can handle their booze. “I only have respect for both them,” he says.
Leaving aside McGeevey’s soul for a moment, consider whether voters would take him back. His best political friend on Earth, Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union), speaks for the defense. “Other than the fact that he put his lover on the payroll, the other baggage is not different than what so many other pols have,” Lesniak says.
Other than the lover? That’s like saying Bill Clinton had a great second-term other than that stumble with Monica.
And this one was much darker. The gay lover, Golan Cipel, had accused McGreevey of sexual assault and harassment and was threatening to file a lawsuit unless he was paid as much as $50 million in hush money, according to McGreevey’s lawyers.
And Cipel hadn’t been given a clerk’s position buried in the bureaucracy: Four months after the Sept. 11 attacks, McGreevey appointed him as homeland security adviser, a job for which this scurvy little man was profoundly unqualified.
“You will be impeached,” one adviser told McGreevey on the day he resigned. “Democrats will join Republicans.”