TRENTON — Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis says he’ll keep campaigning for state Senate in New Jersey while his lawyers fight to have his name put back on the ballot.
The state’s top election official, Republican Kim Guadagno, ruled Tuesday that Lewis is ineligible to run as a Democrat in the June primary for the 8th District, which includes Hammonton, because he failed to meet the state’s four-year residency requirement for candidates.
Lewis’ lawyer Bill Tambussi is lodging challenges in federal and state courts to that decision. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday on whether to prohibit ballots in three counties from being printed and mailed until the courts decide.
Lewis, 49, was born in New Jersey and owns homes here and in California. He has had a valid New Jersey driver’s license since 2006 but voted in California through 2009. His foundation is based in New Jersey but his business is in California. He’s been a volunteer high school track coach in his hometown of Willingboro since 2007 but filed income taxes in California.
Lewis said he’s confident the decision will be reversed on appeal.
“I will continue on, because I will be in the race,” Lewis said of his first bid for elected office. “It’s a shame because the focus should be on the 8th District and the difficulties we face. Instead, we’re doing politics as usual.”
Monmouth University political scientist Patrick Murray said courts in other states have tended to apply residency standards liberally, but the rule hasn’t been fully settled by New Jersey courts. Residency requirements longer than a year are generally thought to violate the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, he said.
“It will be overturned at some level, and probably very early on,” Murray said. “If it goes to the federal level, it will be overturned. I have no doubt about that.”
In ruling Lewis ineligible to compete, Guadagno rejected an administrative law judge’s recommendation that Lewis be allowed to remain in the race. The judge, whose nonbinding finding after a two-hour hearing was forwarded to Guadagno, said the GOP challengers didn’t meet the burden of proof to substantiate their claim that Lewis had been a Californian within the past four years.
Guadagno found that, in relation to the four-year cutoff, Lewis “did not yet own his home in New Jersey, did not otherwise live in New Jersey, did not file his taxes in New Jersey, was not registered to vote in New Jersey and did not have his business in New Jersey.”
Guadagno, who serves as secretary of state and lieutenant governor, is the state’s second-in-command under Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Democrats claimed she let politics outweigh the facts. Republicans say the ruling was based on the state Constitution.
The Republicans’ lawyer, Mark Sheridan, said the matter should be heard in state court, not before a federal judge. He plans to argue that the printing and mailing of ballots shouldn’t be delayed, because Lewis is unlikely to win on appeal.
He also said a previous decision striking down a one-year district residency requirement for a candidate in New Jersey isn’t applicable because it addresses issues that aren’t relevant to the Lewis dispute and is at odds with binding U.S. Supreme Court precedent upholding residency requirements longer than four years.
Lewis said the governor tried to talk him out of running and threatened to cut an athletic program Lewis wanted to start.
The Christie administration said Lewis misunderstood the talk. The athletic program, however, is all but dead.