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boyfriend throws birthday bash in New Jersey

boyfriend throws birthday bash in New Jersey

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, N.J. 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 Chinese mainland.

What a difference two years can make. It was August 12, 2004, when McGreevey took a 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 New Jersey state senator 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 bookstores 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, who he is raising along with his second wife. Then there's his work: representing Kean University in the China talks, plus other education and antipoverty projects.

And there's the book. Due in stores on September 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 sexual 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.

One recent poll shows most New Jerseyans don't care about the book. The survey released this week by the Monmouth University Polling Institute found that eight in 10 of McGreevey's former constituents have no interest in reading it, and only one in 20 await its publication with a lot of interest.

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 September 19 and is to be followed by a flurry of other TV spots and book signings. (Angela Delli Santi, AP)

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