TRENTON, N.J. -- Last winter, private citizen Jim McGreevey and David Mixner, a gay rights activist and top fundraiser for Bill Clinton, journeyed to McDowell County, W.Va., the heart of poverty in Appalachia.
For two weekends, they met with residents amid hills scarred by long-abandoned coal mines and tape-recorded interviews for an article on the plight of the poor in America.
For McGreevey, the former New Jersey governor who stunned the nation a year ago by disclosing that he was gay and would resign because of a related scandal, the trips were part of a personal journey of reflection and reinvention for a man whose once-promising political career lay in ruins.
"The Jim McGreevey we know now is totally different than the Jim McGreevey of a year ago," said Democratic state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a longtime political mentor of the former governor.
Since coming out as "a gay American" last Aug. 12, McGreevey has assembled a new inner circle of prominent gay figures, including Mixner, who have helped him come to terms with being a public figure forced to disclose his homosexuality to avoid what some said was a extortion attempt.
Yet he still retains his closest political friends from his former life, including Lesniak; his former chief of staff, Jamie Fox; and Jim Kennedy, the mayor of Rahway, N.J., the town where McGreevey now lives alone in an upscale fourth-floor apartment.
McGreevey's wife, Dina, and his Irish Catholic parents have coped privately with his bombshell announcement.
The ex-governor and his wife, who held his hand at his nationally televised news conference, are expected to divorce, friends say. But their relationship is civil enough that McGreevey spends most weekends with their 3-year-old daughter, Jacqueline.
Neither McGreevey, who turned 48 last week, nor his wife responded to interview requests.
His parents, who also attended the news conference, initially struggled with their son's revelation, but now embrace him, said Lesniak. McGreevey also has a cordial relationship with his first wife, Kari, who lives with their 12-year-old daughter, Morag, in Vancouver, B.C.
Golan Cipel, the former New Jersey homeland security director who prompted McGreevey's resignation by threatening a sex harassment suit, remains a mystery. He lives in Israel, his lawyers say, where he fled to avoid questions from the media. No suit was filed. McGreevey has told friends he had a consensual affair with Cipel.
Friends say McGreevey has not been in any romantic relationship since his announcement.
Like his ill-starred tenure in office, McGreevey's post-political life hasn't gone smoothly. He landed at Lesniak's law firm, but was forced out in April after he was sharply criticized for working with developers whom his administration had selected to build the $1.3 billion Xanadu entertainment and retail development project in North Jersey.
Last week, celebrity publisher Judith Regan announced that McGreevey will write an autobiography. The former governor will be paid in the "mid-six figures" to tell his life story, said a source with knowledge of the deal.
On the political stage, McGreevey is a phantom, and for some in his own Democratic Party, a memory best forgotten. He carefully avoids political events, friends say.
"He's a nonissue," said acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, who assumed office in November after McGreevey stepped down. "I've never had anyone come up to me and talk about McGreevey in a negative sense -- or in a positive sense, either. He just doesn't come up."
But as the dust settled from his announcement, McGreevey reached out to other high-profile gay figures involved in politics and advocacy, such as David Mixner.
McGreevey "was looking for people to seek counsel from," said John Duran, a West Hollywood, Calif., council member and Mixner associate. "I'm guessing David was a great ear for Governor McGreevey."
Another was Scott Widmeyer, a Manhattan public relations executive and co-chairman of the Victory Fund, which raises millions of dollars to support gay political candidates.
"Jim has had conversations with the leaders of most of the major gay organizations," said Widmeyer, who has retained McGreevey for some paid consulting work on education issues.
Besides talking, the new friends socialize with the former governor. In June, McGreevey and Widmeyer attended a musical salute to gay pride at Lincoln Center in New York. In April, McGreevey and Mixner went to the Broadway opening of "Steel Magnolias."
McGreevey's relationship with Mixner, a South Jersey native, stands out because it led to two road trips from Washington to the southern tip of West Virginia. Lesniak said McGreevey was drawn to Mixner in part because the fundraiser was ostracized by the Clinton administration after he publicly protested the president's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military.
In his autobiography, "Stranger Among Friends," Mixner frequently mentions being struck by the poverty he found across the country as he worked as a Democratic political organizer and antiwar activist in the 1960s and 1970s.
"I grew up in poverty," Mixner said in an e-mail, referring to his childhood near Elmer in rural Salem County. "With my personal experience and the governor's excellent record on the issue and knowledge of existing programs, it just seemed like a good fit," he said.
The two stayed each weekend at the $25-a-night War Hotel, in the town of War, McDowell County, said Marsha Timpson, who lives a "holler" -- or down the road -- from War.
Timpson, a social worker, took McGreevey and Mixner to the homes of local residents, who were then interviewed by the pair of curious outsiders.
"We think very, very highly of Mr. McGreevey. He's a wonderful person," she said. "He made friends while he was here."
McGreevey's trip was part of a wider exploration of public-policy issues that also include education and health care, Widmeyer said.
He has had numerous meetings with foundations, think tanks and politicians, including former New Jersey governor Tom Kean and Rep. Barney Frank, the gay Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, to discuss such issues.
"He's a great asset," Frank said of McGreevey.
McGreevey also has contemplated taking an extended trip to Africa to work on a project dealing with the AIDS crisis and poverty, Widmeyer said.
After the embarrassing Xanadu real estate episode, friends asked whether McGreevey should stay put or relocate.
"It would be better to move out of the state and let the notoriety wear off," said George Zoffinger, president of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, who dines once a month with McGreevey in Manhattan.
While McGreevey is loathed in some quarters of the Garden State, he is treated like a celebrity on his frequent forays to the Big Apple.
"We go to restaurants in New York and it's like he's a rock star," said one friend.