Exonerated “Central Park Five” member Yusef Salaam won a seat Tuesday on the New York City Council, completing a stunning reversal of fortune decades after he was wrongly imprisoned in an infamous rape case.
Salaam, a Democrat, will represent a central Harlem district on the City Council, having run unopposed for the seat in one of many local elections held across New York state Tuesday. He won his primary election in a landslide.
The victory comes more than two decades after DNA evidence was used to overturn the convictions of Salaam and four other Black and Latino men in the 1989 rape and beating of a white jogger in Central Park. Salaam was arrested at age 15 and imprisoned for almost seven years.
“For me, this means that we can really become our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” Salaam said in an interview before the election.
Salaam was arrested along with Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise and accused of attacking a woman running in Central Park. DNA evidence linked another man, a serial rapist, to the attack. The city ultimately agreed in a legal settlement to pay the exonerated men $41 million.
The crime dominated headlines in the city, inflaming racial tensions as police rounded up Black and Latino men and boys for interrogation. Former President Donald Trump, then just a brash real estate executive in the city, took out large ads in newspapers that implored New York to bring back the death penalty.
When Trump was indicted in New York earlier this year on charges of falsifying business records, Salaam mocked him with his own ad on social media mimicking Trump’s original newspaper ad.
“Over 30 years ago, Donald Trump took out full page ads calling for my execution,” Salaam tweeted in April. “On the day he was arrested and arraigned, here is my ad in response.”