Yusef Salaam, One of the Exonerated Central Park Five, Wins NYC Election

Yusef Salaam speaks at City Hall in New York City during his campaign.Michael Brochstein/ZUMA

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Yusef Salaam, one of the exonerated “Central Park Five,” earned a new title on Tuesday: New York City Council member-elect. 

Salaam, a Democrat who will represent a central Harlem district, ran unopposed after beating out a crowded primary field in June by a landslide. He campaigned on building more affordable housing in gentrifying Harlem, local economic development, and criminal justice reform.

The successful campaign comes decades after Salaam was exonerated in the 1989 brutal rape and assault of a 28-year-old female jogger in Central Park. Salaam had served seven years in jail for the attack he did not commit. He was one of five Black and Latino teenagers wrongly convicted. A convicted murderer and rapist eventually admitted to being responsible for the attack; DNA evidence corroborated the confession.

At his victory party Tuesday night, Salaam celebrated his extraordinary reversal of fortune. “When people see me, I want them to see themselves,” he said. “I want them, when they think about the word ‘impossible,’ that they understand that inside the word ‘impossible’ is ‘I’m possible.’” 

Salaam’s election victory is particularly rich given that it comes as Donald Trump—who famously took out a full-page ad in four New York newspapers suggesting the teens should get the death penalty—is currently on trial in the same city for fraud. Salaam told the New York Times of that irony: “Karma is real, and we have to remember that.” 

In 2016, a month before Trump won the presidential election and shortly after he told CNN he still believed the Central Park Five were guilty despite their exoneration, Salaam told Mother Jones, “[Trump] was one of the fire starters—really the main fire starter—because his name held a lot more weight,” adding that his ad facilitated “the conviction that was going to happen in the public arena prior to us even getting into the courthouse.”

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