Salaam, a Democrat who won his primary by a landslide, will sit on the City Council representing a central Harlem district when he takes office next year. He ran unopposed for the seat in one of many local elections held across New York state on Tuesday.
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 told the Associated Press in an interview before the election.
At the time of the infamous case, Donald Trump called on the state of New York to reinstate the death penalty in a newspaper ad, a call Salaam mocked during his council campaign.
DNA evidence and a confession eventually connected the crime to a serial killer and rapist. The convictions of the five men were overturned in 2002, and they received a $41 million settlement from the city and became known as “The Exonerated 5”.
Salaam’s campaign focused on addressing issues such as poverty and gentrification in Harlem, drawing on his personal experiences to connect with and advocate for the needs of his community. His experience with injustice and his journey from wrongful conviction to a position of leadership resonated strongly with the residents of his district, helping propel him to victory.
“I am really the ambassador for everyone’s pain,” he said. “In many ways, I went through that for our people, so I can now lead them.”