TRENTON — New Jersey’s top election official ruled Tuesday that nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis is ineligible to run for the state Senate because he failed to meet the four-year state residency requirement for candidates seeking elected office.
Secretary of State Kim Guadagno, who is also lieutenant governor, ordered Lewis’ name to be stricken from the June Democratic primary ballot.
“I find that respondent was not a resident of New Jersey for the constitutionally required four years prior to the date of the election for the office he now seeks,” Guadagno said at the end of a 15-page opinion.
Guadagno, who is also New Jersey’s lieutenant governor under Gov. Chris Christie, noted that Lewis said he paid income taxes in California, was registered to vote there until recently and has business offices there. He owns a home in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Guadagno rejected an administrative law judge’s recommendation that Lewis be allowed to stay in the race to represent the 8th Legislative District in the state’s south-central region.
Lewis said the ruling would be challenged. The former track star had told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Christie tried to talk him out of running.
“What’s really clear to me, is that first the governor called and tried to talk me out of my race, now he’s trying to use his power to do it,” Lewis said. “I didn’t realize I was going to be running against the gov in my 8th District race.”
Lewis said it seemed as if the governor pressured his lieutenant governor to rule against him.
“I’ve been in competition for a long time so nothing surprises me,” he said. “What’s sad, though, is who’s talking about the people of the 8th District? The kids whose schools are struggling? The seniors who are having trouble paying their taxes?”
An after-hours message was left Tuesday for Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak. The Christie administration told the newspaper Lewis misunderstood the talk.
Lewis, 49, grew up in New Jersey and has owned homes in the state since 2005. He has been a volunteer track coach at the public high school in his hometown of Willingboro since 2007, and he has had valid New Jersey driver’s license since 2006.
His lawyer, Bill Tambussi said he would file a complaint in federal court alleging that New Jersey’s four-year residency provision is unconstitutional and that Guadagno violated Lewis’ civil rights. A separate appeal of the decision will be filed Wednesday in state Appellate Court.
“Today’s decision is unfortunate but not unexpected,” Tambussi said. “It is clear that this administration will do anything to keep Carl Lewis off the ballot. We are not going to let that happen. Carl Lewis is and has been a legal resident of New Jersey and it is unconstitutional to declare him otherwise.”
Mark Sheridan, a lawyer for Republicans who challenged Lewis’ run, saying he hadn’t met the residency rule, said he was confident decision would be upheld.
“It is absolutely the right decision,” Sheridan said. “It upholds the constitutional requirement that candidates for state Senate in NJ reside in the state for 4 year preceding their run for office. Carl Lewis demonstrated over and over again during that period he was a resident of California, and you cannot be a resident of California and New Jersey at the same time.”
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, said the decision was a political calculation made to bar the internationally recognized Lewis from the race.
“The governor couldn’t bully Carl Lewis out of the race and the Republican party couldn’t make a case stand up in court, so the lieutenant governor did their bidding for them,” Sweeney said. “The decision as to whether Carl Lewis can serve in the Senate should ultimately be made by the voters, not a partisan elected official following party orders.”