By Jim Avila and Shushannah Walshe
Just as snow and scandal were threatening to overshadow Chris Christie’s inaugural plans, another notable New Jerseyan came out to accuse the governor of hardball politics.
Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis said Christie canceled plans to appoint him to be New Jersey’s first physical fitness ambassador when Lewis launched a state Senate bid against a friend of the governor’s.
In an interview with ABC News, Lewis said the governor called him directly to talk him out of running, and said the position as athletic ambassador wouldn’t exist if Lewis ran against Republican state Sen. Dawn Addiego.
Lewis said Christie told him in the phone call that he would “fight” him “pretty hard” if he did run, but Lewis said that was nothing compared to being an Olympian.
“I put USA against my chest and ran against the Russians. I can handle the governor,” Lewis said. “To me it was like sports. This is gonna be a contact sport, but I can handle it.”
Christie has been accused of bullying tactics in two scandals that have engulfed his administration over the past two weeks, but Lewis said he “would not call the governor a bully.”
“I think that everyone says the governor is a bully. I don’t see him as a bully per se, I see him as someone who is very insecure, who’s now governor,” Lewis said, adding he did believe Christie was “trying to intimidate me.”
“I didn’t feel intimidated because I didn’t think I could be intimidated, but there was no question that I think his intention was for me to back down and not to run,” Lewis said.
Lewis did end up running in 2011, but ended up withdrawing from the race after courts ruled he did not meet the residency requirement. He now lives in Houston, and the Christie administration said Lewis was still sore from being deemed ineligible to run.
“Mr. Lewis was a genuinely impressive human being and Olympic athlete,” Christie spokesperson Colin Reed said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this coming now is obviously a sour-grapes rehash of a clear-cut legal issue which did not fall his way. Mr. Lewis was disqualified from running on the basis of residency by every court — state and federal — and lost at every level, including all of his appeals.”
Christie was sworn in to his second term Tuesday, but an inaugural evening bash at Ellis Island was canceled because of a strong winter storm.
ABC News’ Gina Sunseri and Alisa Wiersema contributed to this report.