The two men became quick friends.
That fall, Cipel (pronounced sa-PELL) joined McGreevey's campaign for governor. Key fund-raiser Charles Kushner helped the Israeli citizen get a visa. McGreevey helped Cipel find places to live.
As a campaign adviser on Jewish issues and a Kushner company employee, Cipel drew little attention.
"Jim is a mensch for all seasons," Cipel told the New Jersey Jewish News in a rare interview, using the Yiddish word for person of honor.
After McGreevey was elected governor, he helped Cipel shop for a townhome near Trenton. Cipel brought McGreevey by to see it before he made the formal offer.
"He wanted to have a place that was in close proximity to where the governor was because he was a personal adviser on call 24 hours a day," the seller, Elaine Dietrich, later told the Newark Star-Ledger.
No one publicly questioned Cipel's role until January 2002, when the governor named him state homeland security director, a post created after 9/11. Reporters and Republicans began asking questions.
What experience did he have, beyond five years' service in the Israeli navy and work as a spokesman for the Israeli consulate in New York?
How could a foreigner obtain the necessary security clearances? Why wasn't Cipel forced to undergo the same background investigations required of other top appointees?
Cipel never confronted his critics publicly. But the governor's spokesman said he "brings a wealth of experience to the job, and more importantly, he also has the trust and confidence of the governor."
The scrutiny only intensified.
In early March 2002, Cipel quit.
Still, he kept his $110,000-a-year salary and remained a special adviser to McGreevey. Statehouse reporters kept querying the governor about Cipel's duties. One reporter noted that she called Cipel every day for four months without success.
By mid-August of that year, Cipel quit state government. He joined the public relations firm MWW Group as vice president in charge of its Israeli unit in New York.
McGreevey gave him a reference. "Mr. Cipel provided valuable input, critical thinking, and was of assistance," the governor said at the time, summarizing the reference.
When reporters asked about Cipel's work for the state, the governor's spokesman said, "He worked on a series of issues important to the governor." Asked what those issues had been, the spokesman responded: "That's all I'm saying."
Robert Sommer, executive vice president of MWW and a major McGreevey fund-raiser, told reporters at the time, "We're delighted to have him."
Cipel left MWW a month later.
He joined a Trenton lobbying firm, State Street Partners, founded by a close friend of the governor's, Rahway Mayor James Kennedy.
He lasted a few months.
McGreevey's office declined yesterday to comment about the governor's relationship with Cipel.
Cipel could not be reached for comment. In New York, reporters gathered at his Upper West Side apartment near Columbus Circle, where he lives on the 24th floor. Doormen told reporters to leave.
Several people close to the governor said yesterday that Cipel maintained a special relationship with McGreevey.
"From the beginning, the thinking was, who is this guy?" said one Democratic lawyer. "Where did he come from? Why did he get this special treatment?"
The lawyer said the announcement that the governor is gay - and reports that his lover was Cipel - surprised few who knew both men.
"I can't say the revelation was shocking," a prominent Democrat said.
Cipel's relationship with McGreevey soured soon after he left the state payroll, according to several sources close to the governor.
One primary reason is that Cipel believed that the governor should continue to help him find a job, two sources said.
This summer, Cipel's lawyer offered an ultimatum, sources close to the governor said.
It came in late July, shortly before McGreevey left for the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
The sources said Cipel sought a cash payment in return for promising not to file a legal action that would make public details of their relationship.
After three weeks of discussing the problem with an extremely tight-knit group of advisers, the governor made his decision.
Contact staff writer John Shiffman at 856-779-3857 or email@example.com.
Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Miriam Hill, Mitch Lipka and Wendy Ruderman.