COVINGTON - Republican candidate Horace Don Gresham withdrew from the District 2 Board of Education race Wednesday, shortly before a hearing to determine his eligibility was scheduled to take place.
Three residents filed challenges to Gresham's candidacy with the Board of Elections after news broke that he was convicted of sodomy with a child under the age of 14 in DeKalb County in 1988.
In a letter notifying the Board of Elections of his withdrawal, Gresham said he's not finished with politics: He intends to run for the District 2 Board of Commissioners seat in 2010.
"These actions that I have taken was just a test run for me in running for the school board," the letter states. "In other words, I have also used the newspapers to see what the voters thought about someone that had a record."
Gresham said he considers newspaper coverage of his conviction "free front-page advertisement getting my name before the public of Newton County."
Gresham said that 99.9 percent of voters in his district are "church-going people" who "believe in forgiveness."
"Therefore be resolved, that you are notified that in just 24 months, I will seek the District 2 county commissioner seat for Newton County, Georgia, in the year 2010. And if it requires another hearing like this, then after that meeting, I will move it into federal court, for denying me the right to run for public office under our federal Constitution. Commissioner pay is two and halve (sic) more than school."
Board of Elections Chairman Hugh Steele announced Gresham's withdrawal at the beginning of a special called meeting Wednesday afternoon, saying there was no longer a valid reason to hold a hearing.
"Mission accomplished," said Nikkia Lovejoy, a neighbor of Gresham's who was first to file a challenge. "Unfortunately, I wasn't able to say what I wanted to say to him. I'm just glad he's no longer a candidate."
Annette Harmon, another challenger, said there are still issues to be resolved.
"I'm obviously glad he withdrew his candidacy, but that does not eliminate the fact that he still can run for office someday," Harmon said. "That needs to be addressed ... a pedophile should not be running for an office that involves children."
Keli Brooke Heffner, the third challenger, agreed.
"I'm just glad it's over for now and hope they can fix it so it can't happen again," Heffner said. "That's the next step in the process."
Board of Elections Director Donna Morrison said the case is closed for her office.
"Once he's withdrawn, it's done on our end," she said.
However, State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, said he plans to introduce legislation during next year's General Assembly that would prevent anyone ever convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude from running for a Board of Education seat.
Georgia Election law states that at least 10 years must have elapsed from the date of completion of a sentence for conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude and qualification to run for elective office.
According to court documents, Gresham was convicted in May 1988; his sentence included one year in prison and 11 years on probation, meaning he would not be eligible to seek office until 2010.
In the letter, Gresham continually states that his probation was suspended after two years. However, a spokesman with the Georgia Department of Corrections said Gresham served his full sentence, with his probation ending May 15, 2000.
A spokesperson with the Secretary of State's office said qualifying dates for the 2010 election are not now available.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.