Official rules Lewis cannot run, citing residency

Carl Lewis voted in California in 2009 but owns homes in N.J.
Carl Lewis voted in California in 2009 but owns homes in N.J. (Getty Images)
Posted: April 27, 2011

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, acting as the New Jersey secretary of state, ruled late Tuesday that Democrat Carl Lewis cannot run for a Burlington County state Senate seat because he does not meet the state's four-year residency requirement.

Lewis' attorney, William Tambussi, immediately filed for a restraining order in federal court to stop ballots from being printed for the June 7 primary. He also filed a complaint there arguing that the state's four-year requirement violated the U.S. Constitution. He said he would appeal to the state courts as well.

Chris Russell, a spokesman for the Burlington County Republican Committee, which filed a complaint to get Lewis off the ballot, said Democrats were "desperate" to get a candidate to run against freshman Republican State Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego.

In a statement, he said the Lewis candidacy "shows how desperate the Democrats were for a candidate that they would be willing to so quickly jump on Mr. Lewis' baggage-filled bandwagon without vetting him first."

Lewis, 49, a nine-time Olympic gold medalist, hastily declared his Senate candidacy April 11, the same day he registered to vote in Burlington County. He voted in California in May 2009 and owns property there but had bought homes in Medford and Mount Laurel and served as a volunteer track coach at his alma mater, Willingboro High School.

Guadagno said Lewis' stated intentions to move his life to New Jersey failed the state's residency test.

She concluded that Lewis "has not resided in New Jersey for four years prior to the state Senate election" and therefore "is not a qualified candidate to stand for election to that office."

Her office said she would not comment beyond her written opinion.

Last Wednesday, an administrative law judge dismissed the Republican Party's complaint, saying that it had failed to prove that Lewis was not a New Jersey resident.

Guadagno reasoned that "it cannot be seriously [argued] that a familiarity with the social, economic, and political landscape of the state in general and one's legislative district in particular are not crucial elements to effective elected representation."

She criticized the earlier ruling by Judge John Schuster 3d, saying he should have considered that Lewis voted in California in May 2009. In a nonbinding ruling, Schuster recommended last Wednesday that Lewis be allowed to run.

In her opinion, Guadagno wrote that Schuster "wholly failed to address the mutual exclusivity of respondent's [Lewis'] declaration of California domicile as evidenced by his 2008 and 2009 voting record and his current claim of residence under the four-year residency requirement of the New Jersey Constitution."

But this saga seems far from over.

Lewis' attorney, Tambussi, said that Guadagno ignored the fact that Lewis bought two condos in Mount Laurel in 2005 - one for his mother and the other for himself.

"I don't know how she missed that," he said.

He also said the courts typically consider arguments about "the right for people to vote and to vote for their choice of candidate. That's why election laws are supposed to be construed liberally."

Like other Democrats, he accused Guadagno of playing politics with the ruling.

In a statement, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) 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."

Gov. Christie has said he wants a Republican majority in the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, so he can advance his agenda.

Lewis said that Christie tried to talk him out of running, but the Governor's Office vigorously disputes Lewis' interpretation of an April 10 phone call between the governor and Lewis.

Lewis said that he was working with Christie to set up a fitness program for New Jersey youngsters but that it was killed when he decided to run for state Senate.

In the phone call, he said, Christie "was really trying to make it clear he did not want me to run in this race. He said, 'If you're going to do this race, we probably don't have time to do this program.' "

If Lewis gets on the ballot, he would run in the strongly Republican east side of Burlington County.


Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or cburton@phillynews.com.

 

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|