WESTAMPTON – Coming into the contest as a track and field superstar, Olympian Carl Lewis spent the next few months getting a feel for being a political ping pong ball in hardly the epic showdown he envisioned when he declared his candidacy for the state Senate one sunny day in April.
“It’s been an interesting couple of months,” Lewis told reporters on an outdoor patio at a sports bar here a day after an appeals panel overruled an order by Secretary of State Kim Guadagno banning Lewis from the ballot.
“This whole issue is about residency,” said the 8th District Democratic challenger to state Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, (R-8), Evesham.
“It’s easy to talk about a story when you create your own facts. You know I purchased a home in 2005, got my license in January of that year. It was something I was committed to coming back here. I’m looking forward to a spirited race… I want to move on from this point on to let everyone know.”
Lewis said he wants to focus on the issues, like education. He would not say where he stands on the Opportunity Scholarship Act.
He didn’t answer a question about how he would have voted on public worker healthcare and pension reform.
And, “It’s not a yes or no answer,” Lewis said when asked about vouchers and charters.
Moments later, “I’m not for vouchers,” he said.
He gave the suggestion to reporters that he supports the millionaire’s tax.
Regarding Gov. Chris Christie, who backed Lewis’s removal from the ballot, Lewis said, “He owes me lunch. It’s not personal to me. A lot of my best friends are my biggest competitors.”
The World Record holder in the long jump, Mike Powell joked with Lewis that sometimes other athletes wished they could get Lewis out of any given contest.
As for the demolition derby environment of New Jersey politics, “If I was saying I was inspired then everything would be okay. Everyone needs to share in the sacrifice. It can’t be something we just think about. We’ve got to share in our sacrifice. When I put the USA on my chest they rooted for me in that race. If we can get that attitude back…”
He wouldn’t body slam Addiego when given the chance or discuss the Republicans’ coming appeal.
“That’s not really my issue,” Lewis said. “My issue is focusing on the campaign. Whatever they do the ball’s in their court. The most important issue is the people of the 8th district now have a chance to vote for their candidate.”
Trying to keep Lewis talking about residency, Republicans dispatched an operative who distributed a badgering statement to reporters while Lewis talked at a podium.
“While there will be plenty more if he is ultimately a candidate for Senate, but today we have just one question for Mr. Lewis and look forward to his answer,” said Addiego strategist Chris Russell. “Mr. Lewis, you have admitted voting in the State of California in 2009. Therefore, I would like you to answer one question for 8th Legislative District voters today: Were you a resident of California or New Jersey when you cast that vote?”
In the sports bar after the press conference, the sports hero wrapped a local waitress in a warm hug as the pair remembered Lewis’s early days growing up around here.
“I’m a Jersey boy,” the Olympian said.