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He got his chance to do so with McGreevey, who "saw something in me," Cipel would later tell Twersky. Within months, the Israeli had relocated to New Jersey to work for McGreevey's gubernatorial campaign as liaison to the state's Jewish community. "It was a strange choice," says someone who held a senior position in the campaign. "He was an Israeli and obviously a Jew, but that didn't mean he knew anything about the Jewish community of New Jersey." Cipel's relocation to New Jersey was facilitated by real estate impresario Charles Kushner, a top contributor to McGreevey and the Democratic Party. In addition to sponsoring Cipel's U.S. visa, Kushner gave the Israeli a p.r. job worth $30,000 to supplement his meager campaign salary.
After McGreevey won the election, he blundered his way through the beginning of his term, and has presided--to this day--over an administration beset by ethical lapses. McGreevey's commerce secretary, chief of staff and state police director have all departed under various conflict-of-interest charges. And Kushner was recently charged in a bizarre sex scandal; he allegedly sent his sister a tape of her husband having sex with a prostitute in an effort to gain leverage over his brother-in-law, who was cooperating in an investigation of Kushner's finances. Finally, McGreevey was caught on an FBI tape using the word "Machiavelli." Prosecutors said it was a code word to trigger a bribery scheme, but the Governor said it was merely a literary allusion.
In this pageant of alleged malfeasance, Golan Cipel was the first sign of trouble. The day McGreevey took his oath of office--Jan. 15, 2002--he quietly named Cipel his special assistant on homeland security. Although it was just four months after 9/11, Cipel did not undergo an extensive background check. Cipel had served as only a low-ranking officer in the Israeli navy and had no counterterrorism expertise. Despite his thin qualifications, he received a $110,000 salary. When reporters started asking questions, McGreevey refused to order a full vetting of Cipel and wouldn't make him available for interviews. After it was revealed that Cipel couldn't even obtain federal clearance to see top-secret data because he is a foreigner, he left the homeland-security post for an undefined "special counsel" job in McGreevey's office. He quit state government altogether in August 2002.
Rumors had gone around Woodbridge for years that McGreevey might be gay. Even before controversy broke over Cipel's homeland-security job, at least two reporters had asked McGreevey about the gossip. "That old thing," the Governor told Twersky some time in the summer of 2001. "I can't believe they're bringing that up."
Before Cipel departed, McGreevey defended the young man as "someone who thinks with a different set of eyes," according to the Bergen Record. It was a deeply mixed metaphor, but McGreevey was interested in more than Cipel's eyes anyway. Though the Governor did not name Cipel in his coming-out speech last week, his advisers told reporters that Cipel was the guy McGreevey was talking about when he said he had "engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man."