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Published: Wednesday, 8/18/2004

McGreevey should leave now

NEW Jersey Gov. James McGreevey should have the grace to vacate the gubernatorial office now. The sex scandal that prompted him to tender his resignation only promises to get worse, and his announced plan to resign effective Nov. 15 denies the voters a chance to choose a replacement in a special election.

Mr. McGreevey can t have it both ways. He s either in or out as governor. Waiting three months to leave office gives him continued control as governor. It also means that without a special election, New Jersey senate president Richard J. Codey, another Democrat, will serve the rest of Mr. McGreevey s term, which doesn t end until early 2006.

The 47-year-old governor stunned the nation late last week when he announced his resignation amid a cloud of curiosity and a scandalous tryst. With his wife at his side, Mr. McGreevey said he was gay and admitted to an extramarital affair with another man.

That alone might not have been fatal to his political career. Even after Bill Clinton s sex scandal nearly tore the country apart, he still finished his term as president. And other politicians, including U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) have admitted they are homosexual.

However, it quickly became clear that the governor s sexual preferences might be only part of the whole story behind his resignation. A former aide, Goland Cipel, an Israeli poet assigned to advise the governor on security issues, claims he was victimized by the governor s unwanted sexual advances and that he is not homosexual. Mr. Cipel has not formally filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, and rumors fly that Mr. McGreevey was threatened with blackmail.

None of this is playing well in New Jersey politics. Both Democrats and Republicans want the governor out immediately, and the citizens of New Jersey are left wondering what else they aren t being told.

Mr. McGreevey, a Roman Catholic, was at least repentant. Given the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided, he said, the right course of action is to resign.

He s right, but he s playing politics with the timing. He s apparently less interested in doing what s right than in ensuring that the rest of his term remains in the hands of another Democrat.

Democrats want the Garden State to deliver a big majority for their presidential nominee John Kerry, so their fear that voters could retaliate over the McGreevey mess is justified.

The way to quell voter anger is get him out of the governor s mansion now. Let voters have their say in a special election in November.

That s how it s done in a democracy.

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