Sources close to Yusef Salaam say the Exonerated 5 member has signaled his intention to vie for the soon-to-be-vacant Harlem state senate seat, New York Daily News reported. The 47-year-old’s decision to run for public office comes almost 20 years after his rape conviction was vacated alongside that of his four associates.
The seat is currently being held by Democratic senator Brian Benjamin. But he’ll soon be vacating the post to start a new role as the Lieutenant Governor of New York. Benjamin was nominated for the position last week.
Sources who spoke to the news outlet said Salaam has already outlined what he plans to work on should he win the seat. And they’re things that he holds dear. They include criminal justice and prison reform, police brutality and the scrapping of juvenile solitary confinement.
Also known as the Central Park Five, Salaam, together with Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, served between seven and 13 years in prison after they were convicted of brutally assaulting and raping a white female jogger in Central Park in 1989. The five men were later exonerated in 2002 when rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the attack, with DNA evidence supporting his claim.
Salaam, who is now an author, activist and motivational speaker, served almost seven years in prison. “The overwhelming feeling that I have towards the police and prosecutors is that they knew that we had not done this crime,” Salaam told NPR in an interview in May. “They knew it, but yet they chose to move forward. They built their careers off of our backs. And the law of karma caught up to them.”
In 2014, the five men received a $41 million settlement from New York City. In addition to that payout, they received an additional $3.9 million in 2016 out of which Korey Wise, the individual who served the longest prison time, received $1.5 million, New York Daily News reported.
The date for a special election after Benjamin vacates the seat is yet to be set. But it is likely it’ll be held in November when other elections are also taking place.
While incarcerated, Salaam earned his GED. He also graduated from the Dutchess Community College with an associate’s degree before furthering his studies at Hunter College. He was also conferred with a lifetime achievement award by President Barack Obama in 2016.