Federal judge nixes Carl Lewis’ candidacy

Posted: September 07, 2011

Former Olympian Carl Lewis does not meet the four-year residency requirement to run for state senate and is ineligible to be placed on the November ballot, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

Lewis, 50, a Medford Democrat, plans to appeal the ruling, although he has nearly exhausted his legal options after losing at the state court level earlier this year. Lewis was not immediately available for comment.

The former sprinter has been embroiled in challenges to his residency since he announced in April that he wanted to run for state Senate in the Eighth Legislative District. Lewis wanted to face Republican State Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego.

Lewis' lawyer, William Tambussi, argued that Lewis, a Willingboro native who has owned a home in Medford since 2007, represented a special circumstance. The residency requirement, he argued, was unconstitutional because it prevented Lewis from the right to travel and the right to run for office.

Lewis will appeal the decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in his favor last spring and allowed his name to remain on the primary ballot. The higher court's ruling last May ordered that Lewis' name stay on the ballot until Hillman had ruled on all the residency arguments.

"Today's decision was not unexpected given the District Court's prior ruling," Tambussi said in a statement. "We believe that the decision is inconsistent with the Third Circuit decision and will file the appeal later today."

In his ruling issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman decided that Lewis' circumstances do not warrant an exception from the law.

"The durational residency requirement applies to all, regardless of economic status, race, creed, color, age, gender, and political affiliation," Hillman wrote in his 34-page decision. "And it applies, has been applied, and ought to be applied, equally to the famous and the obscure, to the overachiever and the pedestrian, to the athletically gifted and the passive observer. Its populist appeal, and its democratic strength, lies in its universalism and objective application."

Burlington County Republicans, who won their argument against Lewis at the state court level, applauded the decision.

"We've said from Day 1 that Mr. Lewis clearly did not meet the legal residency requirement, and that he wasn't above the law just because his name was Carl Lewis," Chris Russell, a spokesman for the Burlington County GOP and for Addiego, said in a statement. "Today's decision vindicates us on both counts."

Mark Sheridan, a lawyer who represented the county Republicans in the federal court case, suggested that Democrats find another candidate for the state senate race before the Sept. 18 deadline for printing ballots.

"We suggest that the Democrats fill the vacancy that they currently have in the Eighth District," he said.

Burlington County Democratic Chairman Joe Andl was not immediately available for comment.

Lewis grew up in Willingboro but left New Jersey to attend college in Houston and launch a professional track and field career.

He most recently lived in California, where he paid income taxes and operated his foundation until 2009. Lewis also voted in California in May 2009, all of which made him ineligible to run for state senate in New Jersey, Republicans argued.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, in her role as secretary of state, declined to certify Lewis for the ballot, citing the residency issue. The state courts upheld her decision.

Lewis argued that he bought condominiums for himself and his mother in Mount Laurel in 2005 intending to move back permanently. He has worked as a volunteer track coach at Willingboro since 2007 and he has had a New Jersey driver's license since 2006.

Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237 or jfarrell@phillynews.com.

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