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Exonerated Central Park Five member Yusef Salaam will win New York City Council seat, CNN projects

Yusef Salaam, an exonerated Central Park Five member, will win a New York City Council seat in Harlem, CNN projects.

Salaam was unopposed in Tuesday’s election for the seat that became open after incumbent democratic socialist member Kristin Richardson Jordan withdrew from the race.

The first-time candidate, who was wrongly accused in 1989 and then convicted along with four other Black and Latino teenagers of raping a jogger in Manhattan’s Central Park, spent nearly seven years in prison before DNA evidence emerged linking someone else to the crime.

In the wake of the case in 1989 that dominated the headlines in New York and drew national attention, former President Donald Trump, then still a local figure, took out full-page newspaper ads that read: “Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!”

“There were large ads bought in 1989, a whisper for the state to kill us,” Salaam said after the June primary in reference to the ads. “A whisper, in fact, into the darkest enclaves of society for them to do to us what they had done to Emmett Till.”

Salaam won the primary for the heavily Democratic district after a reallocation of ranked-choice voting results expanded his lead.

“This campaign has been about those who have been counted out,” Salaam said on the night of the primary election. “This campaign has been about those who have been forgotten. This campaign has been about our Harlem community who has been pushed into the margins of life and made to believe that they were supposed to be there.”

New York City uses a system known as ranked choice voting in primary and special elections for many local offices, where voters can rank up to five candidates in order of their preferences. A candidate who receives more than 50% of first-choice votes is declared the winner. If no candidate meets that mark, the candidate with the fewest votes gets eliminated and their ballots get redistributed to voters’ next choice. That process continues until there are only two candidates left and the candidate with the most votes wins.

Salaam launched a bid for the city council earlier this year and in the primary faced off against Inez Dickens, a state assemblywoman and former council member, and Al Taylor, who effectively backed Salaam in a cross-endorsement before the primary vote.

He focused his campaign on his wrongful conviction, imprisonment and exoneration, while also campaigning on affordable housing, gentrification and overall quality of life in Harlem, a historic home of Black New Yorkers.

CNN’s Gregory Krieg, Sydney Kashiwagi and Ethan Cohen contributed to this report.

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