Olympic star Carl Lewis still in the running for NJ Senate

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May 31, 2011

New Jersey

by David Godow

TRENTON, New Jersey:

A tiff over electoral eligibility involving Olympic gold medal winner Carl Lewis could have long-term consequences for New Jersey state politics. For two months, Lewis, who wants to run for state Senate as a Democrat in the Republican-dominated 8th District, has been embroiled in a dispute over his fulfillment of the state's residency requirement. New Jersey law requires that candidates for Senate must have lived in the state for four years prior to running. Republican Lt. Gov Kim Guadagno, acting as secretary of state, ruled Lewis ineligible at the end of April for failing to fulfill that requirement. According to Republicans from Lewis's district, the track and field star voted in California as recently as 2009, in addition to owning homes and paying income taxes there.

Guadagno's decision was subsequently upheld by a state appeals panel, but ultimately overruled by the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered the state to keep Lewis on the ballot for the time being. Lewis had argued that the state's residency requirement breached candidates' constitutional rights to equal protection under the law. He also maintained, regardless of the residency requirement's constitutionality, that he has been a resident of New Jersey since 2005, when he bought homes there for himself and his mother. The 3rd Circuit's ruling ensures that a federal judge will decide these issues before Lewis's name can be stricken from the ballot.

Such a ruling is unlikely to occur before next week's Democratic primary, keeping alive Lewis's hopes of crossing the electoral finish line. If U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman does strike down New Jersey's residency requirement as unconstitutional, future fields of state Senate candidates could expand substantially, putting incumbents at risk.

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