By Angela Delli Santi
The political wrangling could continue until fall for Carl Lewis, the nine-time Olympic gold medalist who wants to compete as a Democrat for a seat in the New Jersey Legislature.
Republicans have challenged his bid for office, saying he lost the qualifying heat by failing to meet the state’s four-year residency requirement. Lewis, a New Jersey native, owns homes in his home state and California.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a Republican, disqualified Lewis. But after he challenged her decision and the residency rule itself, a judge allowed the track star’s name to appear on the June primary ballot.
He received 2,418 votes in the uncontested Democratic primary; his opponent, incumbent Sen. Dawn Addiego, also unchallenged in the primary, got 4,350 Republican votes.
The matter is now in the hands of the federal courts.
Lewis lawyer Bill Tambussi wants to be able to question Guadagno as the case proceeds. Attorney General Paula Dow has asked that the challenge be dismissed. U.S. District Court Judge Noel Hillman is expected to rule soon; his decision is certain to be appealed to the Third Circuit, which has retained jurisdiction in the case.
Lewis, now 49, grew up in Willingboro, a middle-class town between Philadelphia and Trenton. He went to Texas for college and in 1984 moved from track star to celebrity when he won four gold medals at the Los Angeles Olympics. Over the next 12 years, he would collect five more golds in the Olympics.
He has been based largely in California, where he owns a business and where he has voted — at least until he registered to vote in New Jersey last month.
But he has owned a home in New Jersey since 2005 and has volunteered as a track coach at Willingboro High School since 2007. He also has a foundation in New Jersey. He has homes in Medford and Mount Laurel, N.J., and Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Lewis and Addiego are campaigning for the seat while the courts decide whether he’s ultimately eligible to run.
“Carl is greeting voters, knocking on doors every night,” said his spokesman, Chris Walker. “We’re watching the court case, and he’s not taking for granted that it’s going to go his way, but he is moving forward like he’s ready to win.”
Addiego is also running as if Lewis will prevail.
“Dawn is out there doing her job as a senator and a candidate,” said her spokesman, Chris Russell. “She’s been at this a long time. She understands whoever your opponent is, you run like your behind.”
Russell said the Republicans think Lewis will be off the ballot by Labor Day, but “we’ll prepare as if he is the candidate because we have no other option.”
Lewis exhausted his appeals in state court when the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case. The issue before the federal court is whether the state’s residency requirement for state Senate candidates violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment as applied to Lewis.
In the latest round of briefs, Tambussi raised the possibility that Guadagno’s decision was politically motivated and seeks to question her about it. The Attorney General’s office says that’s unnecessary.
“The rationale for the secretary’s determination is plainly set forth in the written decision; any questioning thereof is not only irrelevant, but also violates longstanding principles that high-ranking government officials, acting in a quasi-judicial manner, should not be subjected to inquiry regarding their decision-making process,” the reply brief states.