Former NJ governor, who resigned after admitting to affair with a man and has written book, is “‘totally different person’ now, friends say
TRENTON, N.J. To celebrate James McGreevey’s 49th birthday this week, his boyfriend threw a party for the former governor at the couple’s new home in Plainfield.
The idea for the 50 friends and family members who attended was to surprise McGreevey as he returned from a trip to China, where he was negotiating a deal to bring a Kean University branch to the mainland there.
What a difference two years can make.
It was Aug. 12, 2004, when McGreevey took his spectacular political plunge with his now-famous “”‘I am a gay American””‘ speech, spoken solemnly before a national television audience.
Three months later, the first-term Democrat left office.
In the 24 months since his declaration, McGreevey has gone from closeted to out. From married to partnered. Shunned to accepted. Conflicted to content.
“He’s a totally different person,” said state Sen. Ray Lesniak, McGreevey’s friend and colleague for 25 years. “He is so much more comfortable with who he is you can see it in his body language.”
With a new house, a still-new relationship with Australian financial adviser Mark O’Donnell and a new book about to be released, McGreevey seems to have found his stride.
But Lesniak said the nation’s first openly gay governor, who is contractually bound by his publisher from talking to the media before his memoir hits book stores next month, is still molding his identity as a gay American.
Following his stunning announcement that he’d had an affair with a man and would resign, McGreevey headed “upstate,” where he collapsed emotionally, too distraught even to get out of bed, according to Lesniak.
But the former governor was soon up and about, leaning on friends, family and faith as he began a long and difficult process of reassembling his life as he wanted it to be.
Today, that life is quite full.
His sprawling house is alive with pets and parties, like the birthday bash, typically showcasing a guest list that combines a mix of McGreevey’s new gay friends, old political chums such as Lesniak, and the former governor’s parents.
He’s got his preschool-age daughter, a frequent presence, whom he is raising along with his second wife. Then there’s his work: representing Kean University in the China talks, and other education and anti-poverty projects.
And, there’s the book.
Due in stores Sept. 19, “The Confession” is the memoir of McGreevey’s rise, fall and resurrection. It traces his life through two failed marriages, his rapid political rise to the governor’s office, and the sudden, public implosion of his political career.
For now, the details contained in the book are a closely guarded secret.
The only hint at what it says came from limited excerpts released in May, which told the story of a troubled man resorting to anonymous homosexual trysts at highway rest stops as he wrestled with desires frowned on by his Roman Catholic faith and his family.
Lesniak calls the book a “totally honest” political memoir in which not all New Jersey politicians are portrayed favorably. Though McGreevey is not out to settle any scores, he did want to be truthful and helpful to others undergoing similar struggles, Lesniak said.
The book is to be launched with a splash. A two-month book tour is being planned by publisher Regan Books. It kicks off with an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show on Sept. 19 and is to be followed by a flurry of other TV spots and book signings.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 18, 2006.