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From Central Park 5 to City Council: Yusef Salaam’s Miracle Win in Harlem

By Mara Lafontaine · June 28, 2023

In brief…

  • Dr. Yusef Salaam, a member of the "Central Park Five," wins the New York City Council race for Harlem's 9th District.
  • Salaam secured over 50% of the vote share against Al Taylor and Inez Dickens, after incumbent Kristin Richardson Jordan dropped out of the race. 
  • Salaam says that the ad in Newsweek taken out by Donald Trump in 1989 urged "the darkest enclaves of society" to lynch the wrongfully accused teenagers. 
  • Dr. Salaam said his campaign is about the forgotten and the marginalized.
Screen Capture of Video by Harlem Network News  

Dr. Yusef Salaam, an exonerated member of the “Central Park Five,” has declared victory in the high-stakes New York City Council race for Harlem’s 9th District. Salaam secured just over 50% of the vote share against seasoned politicians Al Taylor and Inez Dickens after incumbent Kristin Richardson Jordan dropped out of the race. 

In 1989, Salaam, then 15 years old, was wrongfully accused and convicted of rape along with five other black and Latino teenagers. Salaam’s conviction was vacated in 2002 following the emergence of DNA evidence and a confession from known rapist Matias Reyes. 

Since being released from state custody, Dr. Salaam has served on the board of the Innocence Project, advocating for other wrongly convicted prisoners. Salaam dedicated his campaign to the marginalized and forgotten in his acceptance speech. He began, “This campaign has been about those who have been forgotten. This campaign has been about our Harlem community, who has been pushed into the margins of life and made to believe that they were supposed to be there.” 

In 1989, Donald Trump bought a full-page advertisement in Newsweek advocating for the death penalty for Mr. Salaam and his teenage co-defendants. Referencing this, Salaam said, “Large ads bought in 1989, whisper for the state to kill us— A whisper into the darkest enclaves of society, for them to do to us what they had done to Emmett Till.” 

Standing between his mother and his wife, Dr. Salaam, a father of ten children, spoke about breaking “generational curses” and expressed his gratitude to the Harlem community. “Harlem is the place that gave me a second chance,” he said. “Harlem is the place that made sure, in fact, that I did not fail.”