On Wednesday, New Jersey governor James McGreevey made his first public appearance since August 12, when he announced his resignation, signing two bills to promote economic development while avoiding mention of the sex scandal in which he is embroiled.
A crowd of politicians, labor leaders, and about 300 union members sat on risers behind a stage at the bill signing and greeted the governor with polite applause for about 30 seconds as he rose to speak. "Please, I've only got 80 days left," said McGreevey, who spoke for about five minutes before signing the bills, designed to help the economy of Atlantic City.
McGreevey announced on August 12 that he is "a gay American" and that he had had an extramarital affair with a man. He said he planned to resign effective November 15. McGreevey has not named the man with whom he had the affair, but administration sources say it was Golan Cipel, a former homeland security adviser who quit his $110,000-a-year job after his credentials were questioned.
After signing the bills, McGreevey shook hands with those in the front row and was quickly escorted off the stage by his state police detail. Reporters called out to the governor, but McGreevey never acknowledged them as he walked quickly behind a curtain on the stage.
Several of the union workers who cheered McGreevey said the governor's sexual orientation and extramarital affair were of no concern to them. "It's how he treats the unions, that's important. Who cares if he's gay nowadays," said union carpenter Mickey Jones, 66.
Meanwhile, Republicans continued their campaign to get McGreevey out of office in time to allow for a special election. If McGreevey were to leave office before September 3, a special election would be held in November to choose his replacement. Otherwise, Democratic state senate president Richard J. Codey will serve as acting governor until McGreevey's term expires in 2006. Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie joined state GOP leaders to launch television and radio ads urging Democratic leaders to call for McGreevey's immediate departure.
Also on Thursday, McGreevey requested that a minor league baseball team rehire an announcer fired for using the stadium's public address system to make a joke about the governor's sexual orientation.
In a news release issued by the governor's office, he thanked the owners of the Atlantic City Surf for their sensitivity and said he appreciates "their desire to separate politics from baseball. However, an apology from the announcer should be enough of a response to what was perhaps an unfortunate lapse in judgment," McGreevey said.
The statement was McGreevey's first public, albeit indirect, reference to the substance of the sex scandal surrounding his planned resignation. The team had fired announcer Greg Maiuro after he dedicated a between-innings rendition of the song "YMCA" to McGreevey during a game on August 17. The 1970s hit song by the Village People is widely considered a gay anthem. "I urge the Atlantic City Surf to reconsider their decision and rehire the announcer so we can move beyond this incident and get back to enjoying America's favorite pastime," McGreevey said.
Maiuro did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.
The night after Maiuro's public address announcement, scoreboard operator Marco Cerino posted the message "Sponsored by Gov. Jim McGreevey" on the scoreboard when the same song was played. Cerino resigned. Micah Rasmussen, a McGreevey spokesman, said the governor's statement "speaks to the entire episode," including Cerino, even though the statement does not mention him by name.
McGreevey "saw a situation that he was compelled to speak out about," Rasmussen said. "Ultimately this is a decision for the team owner to make, and I think the governor applauds the way that the team owner has handled the situation. Ultimately it is going to be his decision." A team spokesman did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.