The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Over and out 


By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit
Friday, August 13, 2004 Posted: 10:41 AM EDT (1441 GMT)

Gov. James McGreevey

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The political universe is a lot bigger today, if only briefly.

Indeed, we take a much-needed break from Bush-Kerry's West Coast rendezvous to cast our wide-eyed, open-mouthed gaze upon Jim McGreevey, whose decision to resign and admit he's gay on live TV (a first in American politics, we're sure) created perhaps the year's biggest crossover story. (New Jersey governor quits, comes out as gay)

Everyone's watching this story. If they didn't catch McGreevey's boffo news conference at 4:20 p.m. ET, they saw it repeated during evening news broadcasts or watched it on the Web. How many of your non-political friends e-mailed you yesterday demanding info on New Jersey's gay governor? "What's the deal in N.J.?" wrote one friend of the Grind who, until last month, thought Barack Obama was Irish. "Tell me everything."

It's unclear this morning what today holds for McGreevey, 47, who aides say will spend the weekend with wife Dina and will return to Trenton on Monday. Sources say McGreevey faces the "threat" of a sexual harassment lawsuit from former aide Golan Cipel, reportedly the man with whom he "shamefully" acknowledged having an affair that has left him vulnerable to "false allegations and threats of disclosure."

The sources also say Cipel, 35, might drop his plans to proceed with legal action following McGreevey's stunner yesterday afternoon. A federal law enforcement official told the Associated Press that McGreevey's office had called the FBI in New Jersey yesterday and complained that Cipel had requested $5 million to quash the suit, which assistants to the governor saw as extortion.

CNN has tried repeatedly, but without success, to reach Cipel.

The outcome of that lawsuit, if it is indeed ever filed, will determine whether McGreevey becomes an icon in the gay rights movement, or just another politician foiled by personal misdeeds.

Who is Golan Cipel?

According to news reports, McGreevey met Cipel in 2000 during a trip to Israel, where he was a local information officer and a published poet. McGreevey soon brought Cipel back to New Jersey, where he helped him obtain an apartment near his family's home in Woodbridge. According to the Star-Ledger newspaper, McGreevey even accompanied Cipel on a final walk-through of the townhouse, which the real estate agent said she found odd.

The Star-Ledger quoted Cipel saying he "wanted to have a place that was in close proximity to where the governor was because he was a personal adviser on call 24 hours."

Cipel started working for the state Democratic party during McGreevey's campaign for governor as a liaison to the state's large number of Jewish voters. McGreevey got him a job with Charles Kushner, a top fund-raiser and real estate developer who was charged last month with trying to obstruct a federal investigation into his financial affairs. (Well, that's the polite version of the story: More specifically, Kushner was charged with trying to thwart a campaign finance probe by luring a grand jury witness, his own brother-in-law, into a compromising position with a prostitute and sending video and photos to the man's wife.)

Meanwhile, politics rumbles on in the rough-and-tumble Garden State, where Republicans are already moving, somewhat unevenly, against McGreevey's decision to wait until November 15 to resign -- a move that would hand his office to state Senate President Richard Codey, a Democrat, and ensure that the party holds onto power until 2005.

Former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, a Republican who narrowly beat McGreevey in 1997, blasted McGreevey's plan, telling the New York Post that it "smacks of politics." She said it "would be in the best interests of the state" for the governor to step aside immediately.

In a statement, Bret Schundler, who lost the 2001 gubernatorial race to McGreevey by double digits and plans to run again in 2005, asked whether the situation was being driven by "Democratic bosses" trying to orchestrate the next election.

"Why did Golan Cipel decide to bring his charges now?" Schundler asked. "Is it because the Democratic bosses who run New Jersey got to him somehow, and are using him to clear Jim McGreevey out of the way so they can run Jon Corzine for governor next year and keep themselves from losing control of the most powerful governor's office in America?"

Indeed, "Corzine for Gov" was a mantra being chanted quietly by several Garden State Dems last night. Corzine, New Jersey's junior senator who's currently running the Democrats' campaign to take back the U.S. Senate, said last night that "any speculation about my own political plans in light of the governor's decision is entirely premature."

Some Republicans found themselves trying to strike a delicate balance between expressing sadness for McGreevey and trying to prevent Democratic maneuvering. State Sen. Joe Kyrillos, the head of the state's Republican Party, said in statement that McGreevey "should resign now because he can no longer effectively govern the state." But Kyrillos did not directly discuss the next gubernatorial race in political terms.

Back to Bush and Kerry

Meanwhile, back in the real world, John Kerry and President Bush travel today to battleground Oregon. That's right, for the second day in a row, and the third time in eight days, Bush and Kerry share a city today. In a reversal of Davenport, Iowa, last week, this time it's Kerry who holds a public rally at a park, while at virtually the same time the president meets with small business owners. Camp Kerry makes a point of this, noting that Bush attends an "invitation-only" event while Kerry's rally is a "come one, come all" affair.

Celebrity alert: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jon Bon Jovi will attend the Kerry rally.

Bush-Cheney also airs a new TV ad, which will run on national cable during the Olympics and sports programming and on a health club TV network in more than 250 fitness centers nationwide during the last two weeks of August. Aides say this entirely positive ad marks the first time that a presidential candidate has advertised in health clubs and is part of a continuing effort to reach voters in new ways.

"In 1972, there were 40 democracies in the world," an announcer says in the ad, entitled "Victory." "Today, 120. Freedom is spreading throughout the world like a sunrise. And this Olympics, there will be two more free nations. And two fewer terrorist regimes. With strength, resolve and courage, democracy will triumph over terror. And hope will defeat hatred."

Speaking last night on CNN's "Larry King Live," Bush talked at length about Kerry's Vietnam service and the importance of veterans in this year's campaign. Bush said Kerry "is justifiably proud of his record in Vietnam and he should be," calling it "noble service."

But the president went on to say, "The question is: Who can best lead the country in a time of war? That's really what the debate ought to be about. And I think it's me. Because I understand the stakes." (Bush: America better off with his leadership)

Bush said he should be judged in November over the war in Iraq. Asked about John F. Kennedy taking the rap for the Bay of Pigs, he said, "I'm taking the rap, too, of course." When King said, "So the buck does stop...," the president said, "Absolutely. That's what elections are about. The American people can go in that voting booth and decide."

Bush also defended the "Mission Accomplished" visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln. "People make a big deal out of it. It was not a mistake to go to the carrier. And there was certainly no intention to say that this was over; quite the contrary. If people had listened to what I said, I said there is more hard work to do. And there is hard work to do."

Stance on research

Following an afternoon visit to Nancy Reagan's home, the president and his wife also defended his administration's stance on stem cell research. Asked if he understood Mrs. Reagan's position on stem cell research, Bush said, "Sure."

The White House says the topic did not come up in their hour-long meeting. Afterwards, the president, escorting Mrs. Reagan by the arm, briefly talked with reporters in the garden. The most substantive comment from the session was that the president had met her dog, Duchess.

But the campaign came away with a picture of Bush with Mrs. Reagan, who won't be attending the GOP convention in New York, along with a short written statement of her support.

"It was wonderful to see President and Mrs. Bush today," Nancy Reagan said. "It gave me a chance to thank them again for the kindness they provided at the time of Ronnie's funeral. I repeated my full support of his re-election and my hope that everyone will join in supporting his campaign."