Wrongly convicted "Central Park Five" members Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam (front L-R) attend a news conference announcing the payout for the case at City Hall in New York City, June 27, 2014. Reuters


  • Yusef Salaam is running for election to the New York City Council to represent District 9
  • Activist and third-party presidential candidate Cornel West is backing Salaam's candidacy
  • The incumbent, Kristin Richard Jordan, dropped out of the race after a rocky first term

One of the members of the exonerated "Central Park Five" may soon become a member of the New York City Council.

Yusef Salaam, 49, is one of the three candidates in a competitive Democratic primary on June 27 for the District 9 Council seat. As the Harlem district is a Democratic stronghold and unlikely to elect a Republican in the November general elections, the candidate who wins the primary is expected to be the presumptive council member, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Salaam, whose wrongful conviction was chronicled in the Netflix miniseries "When They See Us," hopes to beat two seasoned politicians, New York Assembly members Al Taylor, 65, and Inez Dickens, 73. The incumbent, Kristin Richard Jordan, already dropped out of the race after a rocky first term.

"I've often said that those who have been close to the pain should have a seat at the table," Salaam told AP in his campaign office.

Salaam is one of the Black or Brown teenagers, aged 14 to 16, who were wrongly accused, convicted and imprisoned for the physical assault and rape of a white woman jogging in Central Park on April 19, 1989.

Now known as the "Exonerated Five," Salaam and the four others, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, served between five to 12 years in jail before their case was reexamined and their convictions were vacated in 2002. New York City paid them a total of $41 million in a settlement in 2014 after they sued the city for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress.

"When people look at me and they know my story, they resonate with it," Salaam, who was arrested at age 15 and served nearly seven years behind bars, told AP. "But now here we are 34 years later, and I'm able to use that platform that I have and repurpose the pain, help people as we climb out of despair."

Data from the New York University's Furman Center showed that the poverty rate in Central Harlem is about 10 points higher than the city's 18% rate, per AP. The district also has one of the highest rates of homelessness for children in the city.

Salaam said he's eager to address these issues and more.

Meanwhile, Dickens said that while she feels sorry for Salaam over what he had gone through, the job of representing the district is not for "a freshman" who left the community and then went back years later.

Shortly after his release, Salaam left for Georgia and returned to New York in December 2022.

"No one should go through what my opponent went through, especially as a child. Years later, after he returns to New York, Harlem is in crisis. We don't have time for a freshman to learn the job, learn the issues and re-learn the community he left behind for Stockbridge, Georgia," she said, according to AP.

On the other hand, Taylor said that Salaam's fame is an advantage, telling AP, "I think that folks will identify with him and the horrendous scenario that he and his colleagues underwent for a number of years in a prison system that treated him unfairly and unjustly."

"But his is one of a thousand in this city that we are aware of," Taylor said. "It's the Black reality."

Activist and third-party presidential candidate Cornel West is backing Salaam's candidacy.

People walk in the rain by commercial real estate for rent along 125th street in the Harlem area of New York City