McKEESPORT (KDKA) — Corey Sanders was told he was ineligible to serve as a councilman in McKeesport because of a drug conviction two decades ago.

Sanders says has turned his life around since serving that prison time in the 1990s, and was hoping a judge would overturn the decision.

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However, Judge Joseph James ruled Wednesday that the Pennsylvania Constitution makes it clear, Sanders can’t hold elective office.

Still, Sanders says winning the election was a moral victory in his fight to rehabilitate his life.

“Everybody I meet, all the friends vie met – higher-ups all through McKeesport, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg – they all address me as Councilman Sanders,” said Sanders.

But he’s not a councilman. A judge ruled that Sanders has been “ousted and excluded from office.”

“I’m sure that Mr. Sanders is a little disappointed in the outcome right now,” said Robert Specht, Sanders’ attorney. “However, it has always been about the awareness that you can in fact change your life and turn it around, which has done.”

But it’s hard to get around the Pennsylvania Constitution.

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It says: “No person shall be eligible to hold office if convicted of embezzlement of public money, bribery or perjury.”

Or, in the Sanders’ case, if you’ve been convicted of other infamous acts. The courts view a felony as an infamous act. Now Sanders is working to get a pardon from the governor.

“Corey knows that the pardon is the bigger picture for him,” said Rachel Morocco, Sanders’ attorney. “He has a lot more to do. He’s done a lot with his life in the past. He’s one of the model citizens of judicial reform that we should be paying attention to.”

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Meantime, community activists in McKeesport argue that we need to do more to get young African American men involved in the community.

“There have been too many blacks caught up in the political system. And the system needs to be turned around and say these individuals have paid their dues,” said Clifton Pitts, a community activist.

Sanders has applied for a pardon, but that could take years, if ever, to receive.

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Meantime, the McKeesport City Council will appoint someone to fill Sanders’ vacancy on council.