TRENTON, N.J. — Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis should be allowed to continue his bid for the New Jersey Senate because Republicans have failed to prove he doesn’t live in the state, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Administrative Law Judge John Schuster III recommended that a petition to strip Lewis’ name from the June primary ballot be dismissed.
The judge cautioned that he had not found that Lewis, among the greatest athletes of all time, had attained residency status — only that the challengers didn’t meet the burden of proof that he lives elsewhere.
“Petitioners have not met their burden to demonstrate respondent has not attained resident status to seek state Senate office,” the judge wrote in a 10-page ruling issued Wednesday.
Lewis, who as a track star in the 1980s and ’90s was noted for his blistering pace and dominance of the long jump and 100-meter dash, is a Democrat making his first run for elected office. Republicans challenged his bid to run in the primary by claiming he had not lived in the state the required four years.
The judge, who heard the case only a day before he issued his nonbinding decision, said the time constraints prohibited a record from being fully developed. That could be significant as his initial decision on Lewis’ political future is forwarded to Republican Secretary of State Kim Guadagno, who’s required to adopt, modify or reject it by Thursday’s deadline.
Guadagno’s decision can be appealed to the Appellate Division.
Lewis said Wednesday that he was pleased with the judge’s decision and was confident the secretary of state, who’s also the lieutenant governor, would uphold it.
“The voters want to know where the candidates stand on the serious issues facing New Jersey and their visions for the future,” Lewis said. “They’re not interested in partisan sideshows that distract from that important discussion.”
Lewis would face Republican Dawn Adeggio in November.
But a GOP spokesman said Lewis’ challengers believe that “by the conclusion of the legal process, Mr. Lewis will be found ineligible to run.”
“Mr. Lewis is the very definition of a carpetbagger who, despite his celebrity status, should have to play by the same rules as everybody else,” GOP spokesman Chris Russell said.
Lewis, 49, testified Tuesday that he has owned homes in New Jersey, his native state, since 2005. He has had a valid New Jersey driver’s license since 2006 and has been a volunteer track coach in his native Willingboro since 2007. He also testified that he’s moved day-to-day operations of his charitable foundation to New Jersey and that he transferred his voter registration from California earlier this month on the day he announced his candidacy to represent the 8th Legislative District in the south-central part of the state.
However, Lewis, who was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame last May, acknowledged under questioning that he voted in California until last year and paid income taxes there until recently. He said he continues to own a town house and a business there.
Lewis won Olympic golds in the 100 and 200 meters, long jump and 400-meter relay in Los Angeles in 1984. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, he triumphed in the 100 meters and long jump. In the 1992 Games in Barcelona, he took the long jump and anchored the U.S. 400 relay team, which won in world record time. He won his fourth straight Olympic gold in the long jump in 1996 in Atlanta.
He’s a member of the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame.