The McGreevey Scandal Wasn't (Just) About Sex

New Jersey has long been the bastard cousin of its neighbor to the north, and the details of the affair involving former Governor Jim McGreevey, his ex-wife Dina Matos and campaign aide Theodore Pederson are the bridge-and-tunnel equivalent of political scandal.

Apparently outraged at Matos's attempt, via a New York Times op-ed piece, to place herself alongside Silda Wall Spitzer as a fellow cuckolded political wife, Pederson spilled the dirty beans to the Newark Star-Ledger in an article posted online late Sunday evening.

The strapping Rutgers grad was not just any member of McGreevey's staff; it appears that he had a -- as he put it -- more "intense" role than any other young man in the harem that constituted the gay guv's inner circle, due largely to the fact that he participated in "hard-core consensual sex org[ies]" with the then-gubernatorial candidate and his wife. The ménage a trois was not the stuff of Y Tu Mamá También; this is New Jersey after all. According to Pederson, the threesome's romantic trysts began with a "couple of drinks" at that legendary romantic rendezvous, T.G.I. Fridays. McGreevey backs the assertions of his former aide. Matos -- who has banked her divorce case on the claim that she did not know her husband was gay until an hour before he announced it to the world -- denies it.

Say what you will about Eliot Spitzer, at least his fall from grace involved $5,000-an-hour prostitutes and the Mayflower hotel. McGreevey, class act that he is, held sleepovers with his wife and college-aged staffer at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. "I'd sometimes go up, sit on the edge of the bed, rub Dina's legs through the comforter and go from there," Pederson told the New York Post. Thank God It's Friday.

Ever since he announced, in that infamous press conference, that he was a "gay American," actual gay Americans have had conflicting opinions about Jim McGreevey. We can't seem to decide whether to ridicule him as the corrupt hack that he is or welcome him with open arms into gaydom. The latter impulse is an understandable one, given the paucity of openly gay people in public affairs. Indeed, the eagerness of so many gays to champion the Governor of the Garden State as a member of the club exemplified the great strides gays still have to make in the political realm.

As one of the 8 people who read McGreevey's tortuous memoir, %%AMAZON=The Confession,%% I can safely presume to speak with some authority about this man's remarkable capacity for self-pity and aggrandizement. Only on page 323 (and over 2 years after his resignation) does McGreevey finally admit that, "hiring a lover on state payroll, no matter what his gender or qualifications, was wrong." No doubt the world is unfair to gay people and the higher rates of suicide, depression and personally destructive behavior amongst gay men finds some proximate cause in societal homophobia. But Jim McGreevey was forced to resign for no other reason than that he was a corrupt politician. He's more Mark Foley than Harvey Milk. That he was sleeping with a male aide is incidental to his downfall. By conflating his political demise and his struggle to cope with homosexuality, McGreevey inadvertently hurt the cause of gay civil rights as much as any crusading, socially conservative political activist could have hoped to do. He fed the stereotype that gays are untrustworthy and self-absorbed, and that homosexuality is a personal weakness.

One gets the sense that the McGreeveys' long, drawn-out divorce proceedings (which have now lasted longer than their marriage) is the couple's sick attempt to keep their names in the papers (Matos, remember, published her own memoir, Silent Partner, last year, and told ABC News that McGreevey "enlisted" Pedersone, one his "cronies," to make the threesome accusations because McGreevey "cannot stand it when I am receiving attention in the media rather than him.") In a poll released by Monmouth University just a few weeks before The Confession hit bookstores, 77% of New Jersey residents said that they believed McGreevey resigned due to "his personal sexuality." It seemed that McGreevey's mission had been accomplished: he convinced the voters that it was his homosexuality, not corrupt behavior, which led to his ouster. The prurient disclosures of Theodore Pederson only fortify this harmful, and mistaken, impression.

James Kirchick is an assistant editor of The New Republic and a frequent contributor to The Advocate.