(Updates with Lewis positions in fifth paragraph, comments from Republican in 10th paragraph, Christie in 11th paragraph.)
Sept. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Carl Lewis, the nine-time Olympic gold medalist, said the legal fight over whether he is a New Jersey resident has helped his campaign for state Senate by making more people aware he’s running.
“I want to move on,” Lewis, 50, told reporters today outside a sports bar in Westampton, south of Trenton, where he announced his running mates for two Assembly seats. “We’re on the ballot. We’re moving forward.”
Lewis, a Democrat vying to represent the state’s 8th Legislative District, won a second federal appeals court ruling yesterday allowing his name on the ballot. He persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to reverse a Sept. 7 ruling barring his name from the list of candidates.
The 2-1 decision reinstated the former track-and-field star as the Democratic Party nominee. Lewis won an uncontested primary in June after the appeals panel temporarily blocked a ruling by New Jersey’s top elections official that Lewis was ineligible because he didn’t meet residency requirements.
Lewis is the son of teachers who has been a volunteer track coach at Willingboro High. He said education is his top issue, and that educators should be judged on performance, not seniority. While he supports collective bargaining for public employees, Lewis declined to say whether he would have backed the pension and benefit changes sought by Republican Governor Chris Christie and enacted in June.
Secretary of State Kim Guadagno, a Republican and Christie’s lieutenant, wouldn’t certify Lewis as a candidate last month, citing questions about where he lives. U.S. District Court Judge Noel Hillman ruled last week that Guadagno’s decision and the state’s four-year residency requirement didn’t violate Lewis’s constitutional rights. November ballots are scheduled to be printed by Sept. 18.
The case turned on whether Lewis had his primary residence in the state before a Nov. 8, 2007, cutoff. Lewis grew up in New Jersey and competed for Willingboro High School before moving to Texas and California. Lawyers for the former long jumper and sprinter said he had a condominium in Mount Laurel in 2005 and then bought a home in nearby Medford in 2007, where he lives.
Guadagno said the record showed Lewis didn’t buy his current home until Nov. 16, 2007, eight days after the cutoff. She also argued that Lewis certified he was a California resident each time he voted there in three elections in 2008 and one in 2009.
Burlington County Republicans, who initiated the legal action, said the latest court decision “effectively eliminates residency requirements to run for office in order to allow a wealthy celebrity on the ballot.”
“We expect to appeal and are considering our legal options,” Chris Russell, a spokesman for the county Republican committee, said in a statement.
Christie, a first-term Republican, told reporters today in Bergenfield that he hasn’t discussed next steps with Guadagno or the other Republicans who are party to the suit. The governor said he has “absolutely no idea” how they will proceed.
“If the courts find that Carl Lewis is supposed to be in, whether I agree personally or disagree is of no moment,” Christie said. “If he’s supposed to be in, then he’s in. He runs and we’ll see what happens. I’m really not all that focused on it, nor do I care too much about it. It’s one of 40 races for state Senate.”
Lewis has been campaigning to represent a district that has traditionally elected Republicans. Incumbent Dawn Marie Addiego, a Republican, was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Phil Haines, who was named to the superior court bench.
“I’m not running for New Jersey Senate because I wanted to become a politician, I’m running because I wanted to serve,” Lewis said.
--With assistance from Terrence Dopp in Trenton, and Jef Feeley and Sophia Pearson in Wilmington, Editor: Mark Schoifet, Ted Bunker, Pete Young.
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