The Star-Ledger | August 16, 2004
By DAVID KINNEY AND JOSH MARGOLIN
With U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine signaling he will answer his party’s call to run for governor in a special election this year, key Democratic leaders are intensifying their efforts to persuade Gov. James E. McGreevey to quit immediately and clear the way for the senator’s candidacy.
Three of the state’s leading Democratic power brokers this week are planning to call on McGreevey to resign within the next three weeks instead of waiting until Nov. 15, three high-level party officials said yesterday.
Middlesex County leader John Lynch and South Jersey Democrat George Norcross III plan to reach out to McGreevey and urge him to resign before Sept. 3, the officials said, which would set the stage for voters to elect a new governor in a Nov. 2 special election. They are upset that McGreevey’s time frame would make Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) the acting governor for 14 months.
U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) – who hopes to take Cor zine’s Senate seat if Corzine becomes governor – has made it known to state and national party leaders that if the governor does not act, he will call a news conference as early as Wednesday to demand his resignation immediately, two of the Democratic officials said.
The groundswell for a Corzine candidacy in a special election built this weekend in the wake of McGree vey’s stunning admission on Thursday that he had a sexual affair with another man.
McGreevey’s aides say the man, former gubernatorial aide Golan Cipel, tried to extort millions of dollars from the governor. But Cipel accused McGreevey of repeatedly mak ing unwanted sexual advances, then offering him hush money.
Cipel, through his New York at torney, has threatened to sue McGreevey. Settlement negotiations in that case stalled minutes before the governor resigned Thursday, both sides said.
If McGreevey quits after Sept. 3, there would be no special election. Codey would be acting governor until McGreevey’s term ends in January 2006. A new governor would be elected in November 2005.
Supporters of the draft-Corzine movement are telling fellow Democrats that the party cannot sustain any more damaging disclosures about McGreevey. They also say Democrats could unite behind Cor zine in a special election, avoiding a possibly divisive primary next spring.
“It’s in the party’s interest, as well as his own interest, to step down early,” a leading Democrat said. “There is no way out, and there is no support for him to stay.”
Corzine aides insisted that the senator is neither pressing McGreevey to resign early nor promoting his candidacy in a special election, but other Democrats say he has made it clear he will run if he is drafted.
McGreevey spokesman Micah Rasmussen said yesterday that the governor will not alter his plans.
“The governor has made a thoughtful decision that’s in the best interests of the state and his family,” Rasmussen said. “He’s not leaving office until Nov. 15.”
Not everyone is in agreement on whether McGreevey should quit and give way to Corzine. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), an ally of both the governor and Codey, said McGreevey has personal and governmental reasons to stay through Nov. 15. He needs to find a place to live, Lesniak said, and wants to ensure that the handover in power goes smoothly.
“This guy has made a gracious exit and now you have people hovering around his political carcass for their own personal benefit,” an angry Lesniak said yesterday. “Why should McGreevey care about what any of these people think?”
Menendez said his “thoughts are with the governor and his family, and I simply believe the next week will be very important and decisive for our state and our party. I’ll wait to see, upon reflection, whether the governor has any new comments to make.”
Norcross declined comment, and Lynch did not return calls for comment.
Corzine (D-N.J.), the former Goldman, Sachs & Co. chief executive officer elected to the Senate in 2000 after he spent $63 million of his own money in the race, is popular in the state party and a rising star in national party circles.
He is chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, raising money for his colleagues and campaigning to win back the Senate this fall.
That job had him in Puerto Rico and Miami for fund-raising events over the weekend, aides said. He is expected to return to New Jersey tomorrow, spokesman Tom Shea said.
Since the news broke last week of McGreevey’s resignation, Cor zine’s staffers have fielded scores of calls from supportive Democrats urging him to run.
As McGreevey wrestled with his decision of whether to resign last week, he called Corzine and asked whether he would run if McGree vey quit, two Democrats said. Cor zine said he had national commit ments and was not ready to run this year, the officials said.
But in the days since, the Democratic power brokers have kept up the pressure for him to run. Cor zine has come to the conclusion that his best chance of winning is to run in a special election this fall, spending more of his own millions in a snap election against a splintered Republican Party, according to a person familiar with his thinking.
Republicans, too, are pressing for McGreevey to quit and allow voters to choose his replacement. They believe they could ride an anti-Democratic backlash into the governor’s office. State committee members for each party would se lect the candidates for the race, and interested parties are canvassing officials for support.