MOUNT HOLLY – Short on specifics but electric with energy, Olympic legend Carl Lewis of Medford bolted out of the blocks this afternoon with his formal entry into the 8th Legislative District race.
“When I run,” said Lewis to laughter, “I run to win. I may not run as fast – but I learn as fast.”
The Democratic contender wants to defeat GOP state Sen. Dawn Addiego of Evesham, but refused to identify anything she has done wrong, even as he swore to undertake a vigorous campaign against mediocrity.
“There’s something about New Jersey,” said the 51-year-old one-time world’s fastest human. “It never gets out of your heart.”
Flanked by state Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), of West Deptford, Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins, family and friends – Lewis, whose parents taught in the Willingboro school system, said, “This is exactly where I want to be.”
Evoking visions of Rocky and/or Richard Merkt, he promised to literally run through the 20 towns that constitute the 8th District.
“I want you to come outside,” he said on this sunny day in front of the old county courthouse in downtown Mount Holly. “I’m going to be running. I’m going to be running for the children, with the grandparents. I want you to come outside and run with me. …We’re going to get the whole group together and we’re running straight to Trenton.”
Lewis’s legendary track and field sprinting and leaping career spanned 1979 through 1996, during which time we won nine Gold Medals of an overall 10 Olympic medals and an additional 10 World Championship medals – nine of them gold.
“Our taxes are too high,” said the fledgling candidate who grew up in Burlington County but then spent most of his adult life outside the Garden State.
He told reporters that he voted in California until 2008. In 2010, he transferred his registration here, he said. He’s been a property owner in Medford since 2005.
At least twice he railed against what he sees is a deepening “culture of mediocrity” in America. Lewis said, “We need to get communities back together,” and expressed his commitment to education, then ducked a reporter’s question about vouchers and charter schools.
“I’ll give you a platform soon,” he promised. “It will be a few days.”
He stood in for a number of questions, long enough to tell the press that he looks forward to meeting his competitior, Addiego, and describing Republican Gov. Chris Christie as a “friend” who he first met at the New Jersey Hall of Fame induction last year. An aide waved the presser over to announce that Lewis was due to fulfill his volunteer coaching obligation at Willingboro High School, where the students were waiting as the press conference wrapped.
“I have community experience,” he said to the inevitable question about his lack of political acumen.
“If I can deal with my mother’s wrath, there’s nothing I can’t handle in Trenton,” Lewis said.
He also choked up at the microphone once when he recalled words of inspiration from his late father.
A beaming Sweeney – who earlier this month won the Democratic redistricting map and today appeared energized with the opportunity to compete with Lewis in the Republican-leaning 8th, said, “He’s more than a great athlete, he’s a great person.”
“With Lewis, it will be,” he added, when asked if the district can go for a Democrat. Sweeney mentioned that the late U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) once carried the 8th Legislative District, and Lewis, who attended Mr. Adler’s funeral last week, called the congressman a great man, admitting that the feelings for Mr. Adler’s memory at the funeral in part inspired him to run for office.
Having demoralized Democrats in the last two elections and stripped the oppositon of two Burlington countywide incumbents, who earlier this year defected to the GOP ranks, Republicans shrugged at today’s Lewis announcement.
“We all know Carl Lewis was once one of the world’s greatest athletes, but after a 30 minute press conference today in downtown Mount Holly we still don’t know much else other than that he just registered to vote in New Jersey today,” said Chris Russell, spokesman for Addiego. “Mr. Lewis refused to answer reporters’ questions about where he stands on the important issues facing New Jersey residents or explain how he would begin to defend the failed record of Trenton Democrats when it comes to our struggling economy, reckless spending, runaway debt or sky-high taxes.
“Senator Addiego has a proven record as a strong fiscal conservative in the legislature, and she looks forward to a spirited campaign against Mr. Lewis once he acclimates himself to the issues facing our State and is ready to speak publicly about his plans to solve the problems his party created in Trenton.”
Conversely and expectedly, Democratic State Committee Chairman John Wisniewski welcomed the news of Lewis’s candidacy.
“Carl Lewis has always been a leader who served the public and he will be a strong candidate in the 8th district,” said Wisniewski. “His dedication is evident and his past work transcends politics including involvement in charitable organizations, serving as Goodwill Ambassador and efforts to help make our workforce stronger. We look forward to helping elect Carl Lewis so that he can serve the public as a member of the New Jersey Senate.”