I love when we can start the day with some good news. Yusef Salaam, the activist and member of the “Central Park Five,” has declared victory in the Democratic primary of his New York City Council race, setting the stage for him to represent his Harlem neighborhood after the general election in November. (No Republican has become a candidate in the liberal 9th District.)
The primary race isn’t officially over, to be clear. As of Wednesday, Salaam was 25 percentage points ahead of his nearest opponent and had slightly more than 50% of total votes. If he ultimately falls below the 50% threshold after all votes are counted, New York’s ranked choice voting system would go into effect. Salaam would be heavily favored to win that.
So let’s keep it real. Barring some political miracle, Yusef Salaam — one of the so-called Central Park Five, a group of five Black and Latino teenagers who were incarcerated for a 1989 rape they didn’t commit — will soon represent Harlem on the New York City Council.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, he said:
What has happened in this campaign has restored my faith in knowing that I was born for this. Every single thing that happens to you happens for you. Having to be kidnapped from my home — as a 15-year-old child — to be lodged in the belly of the beast, I was gifted to turn that experience into the womb of America. I was gifted because I was able to see it for what it really was: a system that was trying to make me believe that I was my ancestors’ wildest nightmare, but I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.
Salaam, a first-time candidate, has run a campaign largely focused on criminal justice reform, housing affordability and economic empowerment in his Harlem community. And his personal story of survival and exoneration has factored largely in his campaign.
Back in April, he joined “The ReidOut” to talk with Joy about his candidacy and how his experience with injustice would inform him as a council member. Check it out.
The interview, in a bit of karmic justice, occurred the same day that former President Donald Trump was arraigned on felony charges in New York. At the time, Salaam debuted a campaign ad modeled after a newspaper ad Trump took out in 1989, calling for the state of New York to reinstate the death penalty as Salaam and the other falsely accused teens were being maligned as predators.
“This is my first entry into the political sphere,” Salaam said on the show in April. “But at the same time, I’ve been watching. I’ve been gathering information. I’ve understood the people who have been closest to the pain. Why? Because I’ve been in pain. And now we have to have a seat at the table.”
How prophetic. That seat is his for the taking. If and when Salaam is named the victor in his council race, he’ll represent a district that stretches from the upper parts of Harlem all the way down to the top of Central Park, where a landmark — known as the Gate of the Exonerated — honors him and the others falsely accused in 1989.