Fallen From Grace and Into Happiness: The story of Jim McGreevey

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It’s been almost 10 years since former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey “fell from grace,” since he announced that he was gay and was leaving public office.

He could have hidden in shame, but instead has made a new life for himself that is chronicled in HBO’s “Fall from Grace,” directed by Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Alexandra. In it, viewers see McGreevey as an Episcopalian prison minister, an author, and happily in a relationship.

“Sometimes our greatest fall produces the greatest measure of benefit in our lives,” the former governor told HBO.

The documentary aired March 28, but it’s not the first that the public has seen of McGreevey since his 2004 announcement. In 2007, he published “The Confession,” a memoir of his early days as a child growing up in an Irish Catholic family to the day he told the world, “I am a gay American.”

McGreevey always knew he was gay, and is open about his secret encounters during his law school years. Even so, he was married to two women, including his wife Dina, when he announced his sexuality. His political demise began three weeks after he proposed to her in 1999, when he went on a trip to Israel with hundreds of other elected officials. There, he met an Israeli mayor’s communications director, Golan Cipel, a man who “totally mesmerized” him.

The next year, Cipel came to New Jersey to help him reach out to the Jewish vote during his second attempt at the New Jersey governorship, and he was also appointed homeland security adviser. A sexual tension between the two escalated to a night in bed while McGreevey’s wife was in the hospital with their newborn daughter.

“It was wrong to do. I wasn’t an ordinary citizen anymore,” McGreevey wrote in his piece for the New Yorker, “The Making of a Gay American.”

The two carried on their affair, even as the McGreeveys moved into the governor’s mansion in 2001, and the press started reporting about Cipel and his boss’s close relationship. During a tumultuous breakup between the two, Dina even confronted her husband. In 2002, Cipel stepped down from his post.

When MCGreevey was running for reelection, Cipel threated to sue for $50 million on the basis of sexual assault and harassment. McGreevey consulted with his staff, including telling them the truth about his sexuality, and decided to resign as governor.

“History books will all say that I resigned in disgrace. That misses the point entirely. Resigning was the single most important thing I have ever done. Not only was I truthful and integrated for the first time in my life, but I rejected a political solution to my troubles and took the more painful route: Penance and atonement,” McGreevey wrote.

McGreevey and Dina divorced in 2008, a year after the former governor was accepted as a minister in the Episcopal Church. With that background, he started the Second Chance rehabilitation program to help prisoners and drug addicts. His work is a large part of “Fall to Grace.”

For home life, McGreevey has found love in his partner Mark O'Donnell. The two currently live in New Jersey. In a life he probably couldn’t have imagined just nine years ago, today McGreevey has lifted himself up from his fall to grace.

For the CBS series “Note to Self,” McGreevey’s transformation is evident in a letter he wrote to his younger self, Jimmy. It was filled with apologies, dark memories, but also a message of hope for a happy future.

“I'm sorry for the pain and anguish of being a homosexual,” he wrote. “I remember the fear of when you first went to a local public library, when you thought you were a homosexual. And how your heart was pounding as your fingers went through the card catalog to look up the word homosexuality.”

“One day you will meet your life's partner, fall deeply in love unconditionally. Raise wondrous children, and you learn to be the happiest that your heart has ever provided.”


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Greg Kabel
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