Olympian Carl Lewis is the latest New Jersey political figure to accuse the state’s governor, Chris Christie, of intimidation and to be disillusioned by a sudden shift in their relationship.
However his recent allegations date back more than two years after Lewis officially announced he was running for the state senate.
In 2010, Lewis had been lauded by the governor as a “son of the state” when he was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
“New Jersey is proud to call Carl Lewis one of our own,” said Christie.
However in April 2011, when Lewis announced his candidacy for state senate as a Democrat, the New Jersey GOP establishment was quick to call Lewis a “carpetbagger” and not qualified to run. Legal action followed, led by Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, who using her powers as the state’s top elections officer, ruled that Lewis did not meet the state’s residency requirements.
Lewis hired his own legal team determined to prove he was indeed a resident and qualified to be the Democratic candidate for the state senate in his district.
TheGrio covered Lewis’ campaign and the Christie administration’s legal actions challenging his residency.
On September 14, 2011, Lewis appeared to be the winner. The ruling that day by the 3rd U.S. District Court of Appeals was in his favor.
Carl Lewis won his latest and, he hopes, final court battle to remain on the ballot for a state senate seat in New Jersey. Now that his legitimacy as a resident is no longer an obstacle, Lewis says he wants to put the Republicans’ challenges behind him, to move on, focus on his campaign and fundraising.
“It’s a wonderful day. We can put this behind us. It’s time to move on. Let’s just get ready for the campaign.”
In an exclusive interview with theGrio on September 14th, Lewis was asked for his reaction to the Christie administrations’ objections to his candidacy.
“It was unbelievable,” Lewis remarked. However, he wanted to get on with campaigning. “It’s not about the governor or myself. It’s really about the state and if we can’t put aside any personal issues we shouldn’t be running for office.”
“Shouldn’t be running for office” was the message Lewis said he personally got from Christie a few days later according to his campaign manager, Chris Walker. In an exclusive interview with theGrio on September 20, 2011, Walker relayed the telephone conversation he had with members of the Christie administration and between the governor and Lewis:
When you ask me about the governor and the email, the Inquirer did a story. We were working with the Governor to implement a fitness program we were going to implement in the schools so that it was physical fitness. [Christie] was going to [designate] Carl the physical fitness ambassador of the state of New Jersey. We actually had four school districts we were going to target. When they found out that Carl was thinking about running, they called me to ask if it was true. Another call to say that in fact if he does, they will pull the program. Governor Christie called Carl and said [his] opponent was a friend of [Christie].
According to Walker, Lewis was told:
You don’t need this. Why are you doing this? If you put your name out to run I will pull the plug on the program.
Further from the interview with Walker:
That didn’t stop Carl because he is about service. You don’t let someone stop you because they are trying to push their agenda.
While that didn’t stop Lewis, other forces were already at work to do just that.
The 3rd U.S. District Court of Appeals in its first ruling sided with Lewis. However, what followed was an extraordinary and unprecedented judicial re-thinking
U.S. Third Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro, who a week after he’d authored the 2-1 ruling in Lewis’ favor, admitted that he was “hung up” on his California voting record.
Lewis’ bid was permanently stopped in its tracks. This week Lewis alleged that the governor personally said, “I’m going to come after you,” when he made his intentions to run known.
“What we’re seeing here is part of a pattern that I witnessed personally,” Lewis said. “I kind of look at a lot of parallels.”
“Mr. Lewis was a genuinely impressive human being and Olympic athlete,” Michael Drewniak, Christie’s press secretary, said in response to the accusations. “We have nothing but good things to say about his contributions. Unfortunately, this is obviously a sour-grapes rehash of a clear-cut legal issue which did not fall his way.”
While Drewniak dismisses Lewis’ claim as “obviously a sour-grapes rehash,” the “legal issue” can’t be described as clear-cut.
The 3rd U.S. District Court of Appeals ruling on September 22, 2011 astounded not only Lewis’ lawyer, William Tambussi, who heads one of the most powerful firms in the state, it also confounded seasoned journalists who, for years, covered the courts.
In an interview with theGrio after the ruling, Tambussi claimed not to understand.
“I had a gut feeling it wouldn’t go well for them when they were summons to return to court. It’s hard for me to get to why. This is atypical. I have never had a 3rd-Circuit argument when I’ve been called back.”
David Levinsky, a correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer, in his interview with The Grio after the court recalled Lewis, said this had never happened in his career covering the courts.
“It was real [sic] surprising that these three judges are hearing it again. I’ve never seen it and I’ve covered a lot of this stuff.”
This extraordinary action was best summed up by this posting:
In a dramatic and highly unusual decision, the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today ruled that Carl Lewis is ineligible to run for State Senate from the 8th district.
The same three judges that ordered that Lewis be on the ballot just last week today took him off the ballot. Thomas Ambro and Thomas Vanaskie, both Democratic appointees, reversed their votes and joined Republican appointee Anthony Scirica, who had voted in the minority last week, for a unanimous decision.”
Reporters covering New Jersey politicians readily agree that politics make strange bedfellows. Lewis’ lawyer, Tambussi, is the lawyer and family friend of George Norcross, who has been described as “a kingmaker” and is recognized as “the most powerful Democrat in Trenton.”
Norcross, in turn is, known as an ally of the governor and recently defended him in the “Bridge-Gate” scandal, before the allegations of intimidation by Christie went viral.