Formerly Wrongly Convicted ‘Central Park Five’ Member Leads New York City Council Primary

by Chloe Baker
ranked choice voting

In the Democratic primary for a City Council seat in New York City, Yusef Salaam, who was unjustly accused, convicted, and imprisoned as a teenager in the infamous Central Park jogger case, has taken a significant lead. Salaam, one of the “Central Park Five,” faces competition from experienced politicians Al Taylor, 65, and Inez Dickens, 73, both New York Assembly members, in the race to represent a portion of Harlem. Incumbent Kristin Richard Jordan, a democratic socialist who withdrew from the race in May but remained on the ballot, is also part of the contest.

This primary unfolds over two decades after Salaam and four others were exonerated by DNA evidence in one of the city’s most racially charged and well-known crimes. The “Central Park Five” case remains a symbol of injustice. The final results of the election may take several days to determine due to New York’s ranked-choice voting system, which comes into play when no candidate secures over 50% of the total vote.

As of early Wednesday, it remains uncertain whether Salaam will surpass the threshold. With approximately 95% of the votes counted, Salaam holds just under 51% of the vote, while Dickens trails significantly in second place. Nonetheless, Salaam declared victory in a late Tuesday speech, expressing his renewed faith in his calling.

Salaam, who likened his wrongful incarceration during his youth to being “kidnapped,” acknowledged his nearly seven years in prison as a transformative experience that exposed the flaws of a racially biased criminal justice system. He thanked his supporters and credited Harlem for believing in him. Dickens conceded defeat but pledged to continue fighting for her community.

If Salaam emerges as the winner of the primary, his victory would all but guarantee success in the general election, as the district is unlikely to elect a Republican candidate. This marks Salaam’s first foray into public office. While all three candidates campaigned on issues such as affordable housing, gentrification control, and poverty alleviation in Harlem, Salaam leveraged his celebrity status in neighborhoods that view the Central Park Five, also known as the Exonerated Five, as enduring symbols of the challenges faced by Black and Latino residents who constitute roughly three-quarters of the district’s population.

In 1989, Salaam was arrested at the age of 15, along with four other African American and Hispanic teenagers—Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise—for the assault and rape of a woman in Central Park. The group members served between five and 12 years in prison before the case was reexamined and DNA evidence, along with a confession, connected the crime to a serial rapist and murderer. The convictions were subsequently overturned in 2002, and the city later settled a legal dispute by awarding the exonerated men $41 million.

Salaam spoke to The Big Big News prior to the election, explaining how his story resonates with people and how he aims to utilize his platform and transform his past pain into assistance for those struggling to overcome despair.

Under New York City’s ranked-choice voting rules, voters can rank candidates in order of preference. The complexity of the system makes it difficult to predict a clear winner. If one candidate surpasses 50% of the first-choice votes, they win outright, similar to a traditional election. However, if this threshold isn’t met, the winner will be determined through ranked-choice voting. The candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to the second choices of their supporters. This calculation cannot be completed until all absentee ballots have been received, which is expected to take around a week.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Exonerated

What is the Central Park Five case?

The Central Park Five case refers to the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of five teenagers, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, for the assault and rape of a woman in Central Park, New York City, in 1989. They were later exonerated by DNA evidence and a confession from the actual perpetrator.

Who is leading the New York City Council primary among the Central Park Five?

Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five, is currently leading the New York City Council primary. He has gained a commanding lead in the Democratic primary for a City Council seat representing part of Harlem.

What is ranked-choice voting?

Ranked-choice voting is a voting system in which voters can rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the voters’ subsequent choices. This process continues until one candidate surpasses the 50% threshold and is declared the winner.

What is the significance of Yusef Salaam’s candidacy?

Yusef Salaam’s candidacy is significant because it represents a historic comeback story. After being wrongfully convicted and serving time in prison, Salaam has emerged as a prominent figure advocating for justice reform. His campaign resonates with communities that see him and the Central Park Five as symbols of the injustices faced by Black and Latino residents.

What happens if Yusef Salaam wins the primary?

If Yusef Salaam wins the primary, it would highly likely lead to a general election victory in a district that is unlikely to elect a Republican candidate. Salaam’s victory would give him the opportunity to represent the district and potentially contribute to addressing issues such as affordable housing, gentrification, and poverty in Harlem.

More about Exonerated

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BigCityVoter June 28, 2023 - 5:47 pm

Exciting race! Salaam’s rise from wrongful conviction to leadin the primary is amazin! Harlem needs a voice like his, representin the struggle. Let’s see if he can win the general election too! #CentralParkFive #VoteSalaam

NYC_proud June 29, 2023 - 8:39 am

Central park five story is a sad tale, man! but seeing salaam leading gives hope. ranked-choice votin sounds complicated tho, hope they count all da votes right!


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