McGreevey Is First Governor to Resign in a Sexual Scandal

(Updated 1:00 p.m., March 14, 2008)

New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey (D) is the 11th governor in U.S. history to resign rather than ride out a political scandal.

McGreevey's case is unique. The 10 other governors who resigned in a controversy faced possible criminal charges or threats of impeachment. McGreevey stunningly announced that he is gay and that he will step down Nov. 15 to avoid exposing his office to allegations involving his sexual affairs.

Other governors have been caught or accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship while in office, but McGreevey is the only one to quit because of a sexual impropriety, notably one in which he admitted having a homosexual affair.

The National Governors Association historical database shows 47 governors, not including McGreevey, have resigned in the nation's history, most of the others to take appointed or elected federal positions and a few for health reasons or military service.

Governors who resigned amid political scandal are, in chronological order:

  • Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland (R), who stepped down effective July 1 in the face of impreachment proceedings and a federal criminal probe into allegations that he steered contracts to political allies and companies and accepted gifts from contractors, including renovations to a vacation home. 
  • Arizona Republican Fife Symington, who left office in 1997 after being convicted of federal bank and wire fraud charges that later were overturned. 
  • Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker (D), who resigned in July 1996 after being convicted of two felony charges related to the Whitewater investigations. Legislative leaders and the lieutenant governor had called for impeachment proceedings. 
  • Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton (D), embroiled in a pardon-selling scandal, who quit his post with just three days left in 1979. He was acquitted of those charges but later convicted of unrelated extortion and conspiracy crimes. 
  • Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel (D), who resigned in 1977 after being convicted of racketeering and mail fraud. He served 19 months in prison before President Ronald Reagan commuted his sentence and his conviction was overturned in 1987.
  • Louisiana Gov. Richard Leche (D), who resigned in 1939 after a federal mail fraud conviction. 
  • Indiana Gov. Warren McCray (R), who was convicted of mail fraud and resigned in 1924.
  • Mississippi Gov. Adelbert Ames (R), who resigned after being impeached in 1876 but before the Legislature could convict and remove him. 
  • Georgia Gov. Rufus Brown Bullock (R), who resigned in 1871 while under investigation for a number of crimes. 
  • A second Mississippi governor, Democrat John A. Quitman, who resigned in 1851 before his arrest by a federal marshal and after an 1850 indictment for violating the federal Neutrality Act.

Other political scandals didn't lead to resignation but removal. Seven governors were impeached and removed from office between 1871 and 1988, the most recent being Arizona Republican Evan Mecham, and two North Dakota governors were removed by their state's Supreme Court in the face of impeachment charges.

In recent history, governors who have weathered sexual controversies in office include:

  • The current governor of West Virginia, Bob Wise (D), who is not seeking a second term in this year's election after admitting last year to an affair with a female state employee.
  • Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton (D), who was forced to admit to an affair with a woman who claimed the governor had performed political favors to keep her nursing home open during their relationship. He finished his term in December 2003. 
  • Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening (D), whose affair with a woman on his staff was revealed by The Washington Post in 2002. Glendening finished his second and final term, left his second wife and eventually married his former employee.
  • Washington Gov. Mike Lowry (D), who decided not to seek a second term in 1996 after several women accused him of sexual harassment.
  • Former Gov. Mandel of Maryland, who had an extramarital affair while in office in the 1970s, eventually married his lover but was forced out of office in 1977 after being convicted of racketeering and mail fraud.
  • Louisiana Gov. Earl Long (D), who was elected in 1948 and again in 1956 and who carried on a well-known relationship with stripper Blaze Starr during his final term. Long was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1960, but died before taking office.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that President Ronald Reagan (R) pardoned former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel (R). The story has been corrected to say that Reagan commuted Mandel's sentence and his conviction was overturned in 1987. Stateline.org regrets the error.