HADDONFIELD — Track and field legend Carl Lewis finally found a court willing to help him get into the race for the New Jersey state Senate — but there’s a chance his run will be fleeting.
A three-judge panel of the Philadelphia-based U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Lewis’ name should be included when the ballots are printed for the 8th Legislative District Democratic state Senate primary. While the three-judge panel granted that emergency request, it didn’t make a final ruling on whether he’s eligible for office.
Lewis’ lawyer, William Tambussi, said that under the ruling, “the voters, not a partisan elected official, will decide who should be the state senator in the 8th Legislative District.”
Republicans contend that Lewis does not meet the state requirement that a candidate live in New Jersey for four years before seeking a seat in the state Senate.
Lewis, 49, grew up in Willingboro, Burlington County, before becoming one of track’s biggest stars and a nine-time Olympic gold medalist. He bought a home in New Jersey in 2005 and has been assisting with the track team at Willingboro High School since 2007. He went to college in Texas, and he has a home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a business in Los Angeles. He registered to vote in New Jersey only last month, just before he announced his candidacy.
Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who also serves as New Jersey’s secretary of state, was the first official to declare Lewis ineligible for the seat.
Lewis and his supporters say Guadagno, who was elected as the running mate of Gov. Chris Christie, decided based on politics rather than facts. Lewis is challenging her decision in state and federal courts.
The state Supreme Court is weighing whether to take up Lewis’ contention that he meets the residency requirement.
Lewis has gone to federal courts seeking to have the residency requirement deemed unconstitutional.
In Thursday’s ruling, the appeals court left it for a lower federal judge to sort that matter out. If that judge — or the state Supreme Court — rules against Lewis, it’s possible he could be removed from the general election ballot.
Lewis would bring celebrity power to the race against Republican incumbent Dawn Marie Addiego in a Republican-dominated district in Philadelphia’s suburbs. Lewis and Addiego would be unopposed in their parties’ primaries.
Burlington County Republican spokesman Chris Russell said the ruling “merely delays the inevitable” finding that Lewis doesn’t meet the residency requirement because he voted in California in 2009.
“Mr. Lewis swore an oath that he was a legal resident of California less than two years ago and therefore does not meet the constitutional four-year residency requirement,” Russell said.