McGreevey Speech Stuns N.J. Voters

New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey stands with his wife Dina at his side at a news conference in Trenton, N.J., Aug. 12, 2004. In a stunning declaration, McGreevey acknowledged that he had an extramarital affair with another man and announced his resignation. "My truth is that I am a gay American," he said.
Driving down the Garden State Parkway on her way to Atlantic City, Jeanne Montana heard it on her car radio.

Gov. James E. McGreevey resigning? Over an adulterous affair? With a man? She didn't believe it.

"We thought it was a joke," she said.

Montana, 48, wasn't alone. New Jerseyans were left slack-jawed by the governor's bombshell, delivered in a hastily called

at the Statehouse.

Some watched it live on television. Some heard it on radio. Some just couldn't believe their ears.

"Get out of here," Jim Nerney, 48, said when told the news by an Associated Press reporter at a parkway rest stop. Convinced it was true, he shook his head.

"It's a shame. He brought a lot of passion to the governor's office, but the fact is that it's not accepted in today's society, and he's paying the consequences."

Some applauded McGreevey's resolve. Others said he should have agreed to serve out the remainder of his term, which ends in early 2006.

Minutes after televisions beamed the

of McGreevey's news conference over the air, residents reacted with a range of emotions.

"I don't get it," said Debbie Epstein, a salon employee who watched the announcement at a tobacco shop in Evesham Township. "Why would he do it? His wife is standing right there."

Some said McGreevey's private life was irrelevant.

"His sexual orientation doesn't matter to me. I feel he's done a good job, holding the line on taxes," said Donald Bowman, 52, a school district worker in Newark.

"To each his own," said Vera Allen, 44, of Newark. "As long as he's doing his job, it shouldn't make a difference."

"As long as his wife could deal with it, it shouldn't matter," she said. "Tell me how many people out there had an affair."

But others felt betrayed.

"He's been treating us politically the same way," said John Johnson, 44, standing outside a coffeehouse in Evesham.

"I saw a woman on the news say 'Why can't he be a gay governor?' It's because he's not honest. If you can lie to the most intimate people in your life, who would you not lie to?"

Gay people were hit especially hard.

"I am in tears," said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay rights group, who said McGreevey had played a "heroic" role in getting New Jersey to adopt domestic partnership legislation.

"We all know how difficult it is to come out as openly gay, whether to family or other loved ones. No one could imagine what it's like to come out to 300 million — this is totally unprecedented."