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NJ Democrats sticking with Olympian Carl Lewis

Angela Delli Santi

A Democratic leader in the state's 8th Legislative District says the party is sticking with nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis as he appeals a disqualification to run for office.

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Lewis' name shouldn't be listed on November ballots as the Democratic state Senate candidate.

New Jersey's top elections official, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, ruled that Lewis failed to meet the state's four-year residency requirement for candidates, setting off a months-long fight in federal and state courts. The federal judge dealt Lewis another setback this week, ruling that the residency requirement doesn't violate the track and field icon's constitutional rights.

With the deadline for election ballots to go to the printer several days away, Democrats have the choice of staying with Lewis and hoping for a reversal on appeal or replacing him now to ensure there's a Democrat on the ballot to challenge incumbent GOP Sen. Dawn Addiego.

The head of the Burlington County Democratic Committee, Joe Andl, said Lewis has the party's support.

"We're going to stay behind Carl and continue supporting him through the appellate process," Andl said Thursday. "The party's not looking at anyone but Carl at this point. The GOP is going to do everything it can to keep Carl off the ballot, and we're going to do everything we can to keep him on it."

Andl also said the party's two Assembly candidates would be swapped out at a meeting Thursday night.

Most voters in the 8th District live in Burlington County, though the district also has towns in Camden and Atlantic counties.

Lewis' appeal will be heard in Philadelphia on Tuesday. It may be his last hope to get back on the November ballot.

Lewis, 50, exhausted his appeals in state court when the Supreme Court refused to take the case.

He's had better luck in federal court. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier ruled that Lewis' name should remain on primary ballots, and he got 2,418 votes in June, winning his party's uncontested primary. Addiego also was unchallenged in her party's primary, which she won with 4,350 votes.

Lewis grew up in New Jersey before attending college in Texas and later settling in California. He has owned homes in New Jersey since 2005 but also pays taxes and utilities on homes in California. He's been a volunteer track coach in his native Willingboro since 2007 but voted in California as recently as 2009. He switched his voter registration to New Jersey just before declaring his candidacy in April.

The issue ultimately before the federal court is whether the state's residency requirement for state Senate candidates violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment as applied to Lewis.

The Associated Press