March 30, 2023
Yusef Salaam of Central Park 5 to run for City Council in Harlem

Yusef Salaam of Central Park 5 to run for City Council in Harlem

Yusef Salaam, a member of the Central Park 5, said Friday that he intends to run for a City Council seat in Harlem, challenging Councilwoman Kristin Richardson Jordan.

Salaam, one of five Black and Latino teens convicted but later exonerated in the 1989 rape of a white jogger, said he will announce a campaign focused on public safety, racial justice and housing equity on Saturday.

“This is not politics as usual,” Salaam, 48, said by phone, promising to use his high profile and personal story to “shine light in the darkness.”

Yusef Salaam poses at the ACLU SoCal's 25th Annual Luncheon in Los Angeles on June 7, 2019.

Salaam, who moved back to the city from Georgia last year, said he has considered running for office ever since he was first accused in the Central Park case.

In 2021, he told associates he was considering a run for a New York State Senate seat in Harlem, but he ultimately backed off.

Instead, he said Friday, he has settled on running for the Council’s 9th District, which runs north from Central Park through the heart of Harlem.

Jordan, a far-left 36-year-old lawmaker, has held the seat for one year. Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the challenge.

The primary election is scheduled for June. Other candidates in the 9th District include state Assemblywoman Inez Dickens, who formerly held the Council seat, and Assemblyman Al Taylor.

Salaam, a speaker and author, said he has not spoken to Jordan about his run and does not know her personally.

On Friday, he did not point to any policy differences with her, or any shortcomings he believes she has shown as a councilwoman.

But he described himself as someone who “can bridge the gap between conversations that need to be held” on topics including housing, safety and criminal justice.

“This is definitely something different,” said Salaam, who served nearly seven years in prison. “This gives us the opportunity to be able to restore Harlem to the greatness that it is and could always be.”

(L-R) Korey Wise, Raymond Santana Jr., Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, and Kevin Richardson of the "Central Park Five" speak onstage at the 2019 BET Awards on June 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.

His conviction in the gang rape of Trisha Meili was overturned in 2002 after another man confessed to the crime. In 2014, the Central Park 5 reached a roughly $40 million settlement with the city, capping a protracted battle over one of New York’s most infamous miscarriages of justice.

“I’ve been closest to the pain,” Salaam said. “Criminal justice is a very, very important platform. And public safety is the most paramount of our requests.”

He suggested he hopes to be a political ally of Mayor Adams, who he said is doing a “tremendous job.”

Jordan, a vocal critic of the Police Department, has taken a more critical tone toward the moderate mayor.

Salaam also said he supported a controversial bid by Jordan to name a Harlem block in honor of Elijah Muhammad, the late leader of the Nation of Islam.

“We’re honoring this man because of the great works that he has done, and the great works that are continuing to happen in this Nation and around the world,” Salaam said.

A crowd cheers as Yusef Salaam, left, one of five men exonerated after being wrongfully convicted as teenagers for the 1989 rape of a jogger in Central Park, looks at the plaque with the words "Gate of the Exonerated," unveiled during a naming ceremony for the northeast gateway of Central Park, Monday Dec. 19, 2022, in New York. The entrance was named to honor Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., Antron McCray, Korey Wise — the five men exonerated in the case.

Salaam is expected to announce his campaign with his family and community supporters at the old Harlem YMCA on W. 135th St. on Saturday.

“This is a very inclusive process,” Salaam said. “The voice of the people will be resonant in my campaign.”

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