Lewis said Wednesday he's looking forward to turning his attention away from the partisan politics of the race and focusing on learning the issues and campaigning for the 8th District state Senate seat. An appeals court a day earlier restored his name to the ballot.
"I'm not running for state Senate because I wanted to become a politician," Lewis said during his first public comments since the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor Tuesday. "I'm running because I wanted to serve."
Republicans claimed that Lewis, a Democrat, was ineligible to run because he didn't meet the state's residency requirement. A months-long legal battle ensued in state and federal courts.
With time running out before November ballots must be sent to the printer to allow for absentee voting, Tuesday's ruling may be the last in the case. However, GOP lawyer Mark Sheridan, said the 2-1 ruling by the Philadelphia-based appellate panel would be appealed.
But Sheridan acknowledged he would have to act quickly and choose to appeal to the entire 3rd Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court, neither of which agrees to take on most of the appeals made to it.
Lewis, 50, is challenging GOP state Sen. Dawn Addiego in the heavily Republican 8th Legislative District. State officials had taken Lewis' name off the ballot, saying he didn't meet a four-year residency requirement to seek the seat, and both state courts and the U.S. District court sided with them.
However, the 3rd Circuit had put Lewis back on the ballot for the primary in June and restored him again Tuesday for the general election on Nov. 8.
Lewis' lawyer, William Tambussi, argued that the residency requirement is meant to ensure that a candidate knows the local issues and the voters know the candidate. He said neither was a problem in the case of Lewis, who grew up in southern New Jersey, went to college in Texas and settled in California. The Olympian also bought homes in New Jersey in 2005 and 2007 but continued to vote in California through 2009.
The appeals panel majority agreed with Tambussi in the ruling issued less than five hours after it heard arguments on Tuesday. The court said a full opinion would be filed later.
After months of legal hair-splitting on exactly when Lewis became a New Jersey resident, the court seemed to indicate that issue was not the heart of the case. Instead, the court said, "the state has failed to demonstrate a compelling state interest" for leaving Lewis off the ballot.
Judges Thomas Vanaskie and Thomas Ambro, who voted Tuesday to put Lewis back on the ballot, were appointed by Democrats. Judge Anthony Scirica, who dissented, is a Republican appointee.