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McGreevey's bid for a last hurrah

New Jersey governor plans to resign Nov. 15, but also hopes to push ahead on tax reform and stem-cell study.

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New Jersey's roiling political waters have calmed, at least for now.

Embattled Gov. James McGreevey (D) has made it clear that he intends to wait until Nov. 15 to make his resignation effective - and barring some further damaging revelation, it appears he will get his way.

The open question is whether he can use that time, as he hopes, to pursue accomplishments, from shoring up property tax reform to cementing New Jersey's status as a leader in stem cell research.

There's little historic precedent to use as a guide for such a situation. After President Richard Nixon announced he was resigning in the wake of the Watergate scandal, he did so immediately, so there was no question about his role in future policy decisions. A more apt analogy may be President Bill Clinton after the Lewinsky scandal. He didn't accomplish much on the legislative front after the impeachment. Instead, he put his energies into foreign policy, trying to negotiate a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which he could do independently of Congress. Governor McGreevey, too, may be able to use the powers of his office to try to leave a more positive legacy than simply resigning in disgrace.

"He is crippled, there's no question about that, but he's not crippled in the powers that he can exercise as governor," says Nancy Becker, a longtime Republican lobbyist in Trenton. "If he has to convince or persuade the legislature about an issue they don't care about, he won't be successful. But on issues he can handle himself through executive order, he still has power through November."

In a commentary in The New York Times Sunday, McGreevey contended it would be an abandonment of his responsibility to leave before several project his administration "holds dear" were completed. They include setting up a stem-cell research center, creating a mechanism to protect the drinking water of 5 million residents in the Highlands area, and putting into place a commission to study revising the state's property tax system. "Having accepted responsibility for my actions by proffering my resignation didn't necessarily mean that I was required to abandon midstream important initiatives that this administration holds dear," he wrote.

Some analysts remain skeptical about McGreevey's ability to achieve anything, contending that he will be hampered in anything he attempts by a lack of political legitimacy. Not so much because of his unprecedented announcement that he's gay and had an adulterous affair, but because of questions about whether he abused his power to help his former lover, or as the man claims, to harass him.

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