US legend Lewis runs into racism row as he bids to enter politics

Carl Lewis, arguably the world's greatest-ever Olympian, is involved in another running battle – to become a politician. And it is one that is becoming increasingly bitter, his bid for power turning the New Jersey Senate race – normally a humdrum affair – into a high political drama, with charges of racism, illegality, and dirty politicking.

The 50-year-old former sprinter and long jumper is at the centre of a storm after a Republican representative in the New Jersey Assembly, the state senate for which Lewis hopes to stand as a Democrat in the November elections, has resigned after his wife sent a leaked email to the nine-times Olympic gold medalist that was allegedly racist.

It read: "Imagine having dark skin and name recognition and the nerve to think that equalled knowing something about politics. Sure, knowing someone with fat purse strings is nice, but you have no knowledge."

The senator, Pat Delaney, has subsequently resigned, saying: "I am deeply disappointed in my wife's decision to send that email to Mr Lewis' campaign; it does not reflect my personal beliefs whatsoever. I have decided to leave public life and apologise to Mr Lewis for any pain this caused him."

Lewis, 50, has declined to comment on the content of the email, saying: "I don't want to elevate it any further". But this is the latest episode in a months-long political row over whether the sports icon is eligible to run for office in his native New Jersey.

Lewis, who grew up in Willingboro, a middle-class town between Philadelphia and Trenton, went to college in Texas and lived in California after amassing gold medals in three consecutive Olympics beginning in Los Angeles in 1984.

The controversy began after Lewis announced his candidacy in April, when Republicans – citing records that showed he voted in California in 2009 – attempted to get Lewis kicked off the ballot for failing to meet the state's four-year residency requirement. Lewis responded that he had owned a home in the district since 2005, had a New Jersey driver's licence since 2006 and volunteered as a track coach at Willingboro High School since 2007.

To Lewis, this has nothing to do with residency and everything to do with politics. He points out he's a Democrat running in what was otherwise considered a safe Republican district, forcing the state Republican Party to spend a lot of money in a place where it usually doesn't.

"If my name was Carl Smith, they never would have challenged my residency, because Carl Smith wouldn't have been a threat to them," he says. "Because of who I am and what I've accomplished, I can energise people in a way that another candidate might not be able to. And that scares them. This is not about residency. This is about them being afraid to run the race against me."

Lewis, who describes himself as a "political junkie", says he is running to help underprivileged kids and fight high taxes. "Being in this community, seeing what was going on with kids, with families and with seniors, I felt like it was time to do something about it."

Whether he gets the opportunity to do so remains in the balance. The resulting legal battle has been through state court, where Lewis lost, and is now in front of a federal judge, who will rule on it this week. "The fact is, New Jersey's constitution violates the US constitution," says Bill Tambussi, Lewis's lawyer. "The voters can decide for themselves who they want to represent them."

Lewis was voted "Sportsman of the Century" by the International Olympic Committee. His achievements included emulating Jesse Owens and winning four gold medals in the 100 metres, 200m, long jump and 4 x 100m relay at the 1984 Olympics in Angeles. He won a further two gold medals at Seoul in 1988 before his last Olympic appearance at Atlanta in 1996 when he bowed out with victory in the long jump.

Since retiring from athletics in 1997 he has tried several careers, including trying to become an actor.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected