Olympian Carl Lewis Sues After New Jersey Official Halts State Senate Bid
Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis will get a hearing tomorrow before a federal judge on his lawsuit challenging a ruling by New Jersey’s top election official that he can’t run for the state Senate.
Secretary of State Kim Guadagno ruled yesterday that Lewis failed to meet the four-year residency requirement for candidates. Lewis, 49, who grew up in Willingboro, New Jersey, claims that he is now a state resident after living in Texas and California. Lewis competed for the U.S. in four Olympics as a sprinter and long jumper, winning nine gold medals.
Lewis, a Democrat who wants to run for the 8th District Senate seat, claimed in a federal lawsuit that Guadagno, a Republican who is also lieutenant governor, violated the U.S. Constitution by removing his name from the ballot. A judge in Camden, New Jersey, will hold a hearing tomorrow on Lewis’s request for an order barring his removal from the ballot.
“Lewis is likely to prevail on the merits of his constitutional challenge to New Jersey’s four-year residency requirement for candidates for the New Jersey Senate,” his lawyers said today in court papers. “Lewis would suffer irreparable harm if he was not permitted to remain on the ballot.”
Lewis said in a complaint filed yesterday that Guadagno’s order violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman said in an order today that Guadagno tomorrow must show why he should not temporarily bar the printing of ballots without Lewis’s name. The ballots are scheduled to be mailed tomorrow.
Lack of Evidence
Hillman’s order said that while Lewis has “raised a substantial question” on the constitutionality of the residency requirement, he has failed so far “to demonstrate sufficient evidence regarding the immediacy of any irreparable harm.”
Lewis also filed an appeal today to New Jersey’s appellate division, arguing that the two Republicans officials who objected to his candidacy lack legal standing. Lewis’s lawyers said New Jersey case law bars a political party from injecting itself into an opposing party’s primary election process.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Lewis said Republican Governor Chris Christie tried to talk him out of running on April 10, a day before he entered the race. Lewis said Christie’s staff also threatened to cut an athletic program he wanted to start.
‘Inflated the Tone’
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, said in an e- mail today that Lewis “has completely misrepresented and inflated the tone and content of his phone call with the governor -- a phone call Lewis himself initiated.”
Michael Muller, a spokesman for Lewis, didn’t immediately respond to e-mails and calls requesting comment.
On April 15, two Republican officials objected to Lewis’s petition to run in the June 7 primary. The district, in southern New Jersey outside of Philadelphia, has traditionally elected Republicans. Its boundaries were redrawn this year.
Dawn Marie Addiego, a Republican, was an assemblyman when she was appointed in December to fill the seat of Phil Haines, who was appointed by Christie to become a judge.
An administrative law judge, John Schuster III, held a hearing April 19 about the challenge, ruling the next day that Lewis should be on the ballot.
Lewis, a graduate of Willingboro High School, attended the University of Houston, where he was a track star. He continued to train in Houston for the Olympic Games in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996, according to his lawsuit. He moved to California in 1999, his complaint said.
California to New Jersey
In July 2005, Lewis moved from California to Mount Laurel, New Jersey, buying a condominium for himself, according to his complaint, and one for his mother a month later. He got a New Jersey driver’s license in 2006, and bought a home in Medford, New Jersey, on Nov. 17, 2007, “where he continues to reside today and pays property taxes and utility bills.”
In May 2007, he volunteered as an assistant track coach at Willingboro High School, and he attended church in Camden in 2009, according to his complaint.
In her 15-page opinion, Guadagno overruled Schuster, saying his decision was “an abdication of his adjudicatory responsibilities.” She said Lewis failed to prove he lived in New Jersey for four years prior to the Nov. 8 general election. She challenged several aspects of Lewis’s case.
She said Lewis moved to California in 1997 to start an acting career, and he owned three homes there as of Nov. 8, 2007. He sold one home in 2007, another last July, and he still owns a rental property there, according to her opinion.
He was registered to vote in California as of Nov. 8, 2007, and he voted there in three elections in 2008 and one in 2009, she said. Each time, she said, Lewis certified he was a California resident. He paid California income taxes from 2002 through at least 2008, and possibly 2009, she said.
Lewis “admitted that his business is in California,” and he filed an annual report last September saying his foundation was paying California taxes, according to Guadagno’s ruling. He did not register to vote in New Jersey until April 11, the day he filed his candidacy, she said.
As of the four-year cutoff, she said, Lewis “did not yet own his home in New Jersey, did not otherwise live in New Jersey, didn’t file his taxes in New Jersey, was not registered to vote in New Jersey and did not have his business in New Jersey.”
Rick Gorka, a spokesman for state Republicans, cited Guadagno’s opinion in a telephone interview, saying Lewis “owned homes in California, paid taxes in California and was a registered voter in California. It’s pretty clear that by voting in 2009 in California, Carl Lewis was a resident of California, not of New Jersey.”
The state Democratic chairman, John Wisniewski, said in a statement that the case is “the latest example of the Christie administration believing they are above the law.”
“If it wasn’t bad enough that the governor tried to get Carl Lewis out of the race before it started, now it appears they realize they can’t win at the ballot box and they would do anything to deprive the voters of this choice,” he said.
The case is Lewis v. Guadagno, 11-cv-2381, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Camden).