EAST CHICAGO | A recent governor's pardon has put former City Councilman Jesse Gomez into a position to run for the city's first elected school board this fall.
Gomez, who was previously barred from holding public office because of a 29-year-old criminal conviction, is now one of 24 men and women seeking voter approval in the Nov. 6 nonpartisan election of nine school board trustees.
Gomez served from 1992 to 1995 on the City Council and again from 2005 to 2007. He also served as the city's safety director from 2000 to 2007. However, his next re-election bid was cut short by the county elections board, which was forced to remove him from the ballot in 2007.
Gomez pleaded guilty to drug possession and the sentencing judge reduced it to a misdemeanor in 1983. That reduction kept Gomez eligible to hold public office at the time. However, a 2005 state law closed that loophole and barred Gomez from running again without a governor's pardon.
Gomez said earlier this week he began applying for it several years ago.
He said he works for Northrop Grumman Corp., a Department of Defense contractor. "My boss wanted me to get a security clearance and asked to try for a pardon just to make sure the process was more smooth," he said.
"I went to the parole board, submitted references from people who had known me for a period of time," he said. He argued he has led a law abiding life since the 1983 incident.
"I was fortunate enough to get their approval. It went to the governor's desk and last November I got notice from the governor. I was very happy about that," Gomez said.
Gomez said he has supported an elected school board for two decades and campaigned in 2009 with the Ministerial Alliance to give parents more of a voice in school policy. School board trustees were appointed by the mayor's office until this year.