City council races are not until next year, but there’s already a buzz of candidates running to replace Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan in Harlem’s District 9. Most notably this past week Dr. Yusef Salaam, author and member of the exalted Exonerated Five, and established Assemblymember Alfred Taylor decided to throw their hats in the ring.
“It occurred to me that the ones that are closer to the problem should also be the ones at the table, helping to make the decisions to push the governance of the people forward,” said Salaam about why he’s running. “I think that many people want change and they want more and better than what they’ve gotten. And I represent that.”
A Harlem native, Salaam was 15 years old when he and his young friends were wrongfully tried and convicted in the Central Park Jogger rape case of a white woman in 1989. Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise became collectively known as the Central Park Five. They spent between 7 to 13 years behind bars until their sentences were overturned in 2002, after which they were dubbed the Exonerated Five. Salaam received about $7,125,000 out of a $41 million New York City payout to the Five for their time spent in prison.
Salaam has since become an author, activist, father of 10, and is now turning his intentions to politics in his hometown. He believes in criminal justice activism because of his experiences. He had previously intended to run in the District 30 State Senate race in 2021 but decided against it. Salaam has been living in Atlanta with his current wife and children since 2016. The family is making arrangements to relocate to Harlem.
“I think we have enough millionaires in office already. That is part of the problem,” said Richardson Jordan in a stated response to Salaam’s announcement.
Kyle Ishmael is the executive director for the Manhattan County Democratic Committee. Ishmael runs the consulting firm Back Chamber that is representing Salaam in his campaign for city council. Ishmael’s firm has represented candidates such as Monique Chandler-Waterman and Jelanie DeShong in previous races. He said they’re not going to “strongarm” anyone in the race.
“We will be strongly making the case that what Harlem needs is unification. It’s our intent to go throughout every corner of the district and make the case that we have good leadership in the assembly with Assemblywoman Dickens rising in leadership and Assemblyman Taylor rising in ranks, and Senator Cleare,” said Ishmael. “It’s my position that Harlem should be injecting additional leadership into what we have as opposed to just shuffling people around in different seats. That’s the case I’ve been making.”
In a dramatic flair, complete with hot chocolate and pound cake for constituents, Taylor then announced his candidacy for District 9 this Tuesday. Taylor has been the longtime bow-tie wearing pastor of Infinity Mennonite Church on West 146th Street, an assemblymember for the last five years, and has never shied away from publicly speaking on his experiences in the criminal justice system. He said the district needs a representative with a proven record of working with colleagues to deliver on housing, health services, educational excellence, public safety and criminal justice reform to residents.
Taylor was born in North Carolina and raised in Harlem. His grandmother was a superintendent. He said he was around age 16 when he started getting arrested and using drugs. He left the city and dropped out of high school at 18, eventually joining the military. Taylor was first elected in a special election back in 2017. He said he doesn’t see city council as a step down in terms of office at all.
“I’m running because Harlem, especially East Harlem, needs an effective voice in City Hall. One that hears,” said Taylor. “I’m going to learn the needs of this community. I don’t want to come in with an agenda and have all the answers. Don’t vote for nobody like that if they’re not willing to sit and listen and learn your concerns.”
Taylor added that he admires Salaam “100%” for his perseverance in the face of struggle, and in his conversations with him has agreed to run the “highest level of campaigns” as equals. “The voters will make a decision which one of us they want, and they will have the opportunity to kick tires and check us out,” said Taylor.
Taylor has already formed an alliance of support with Sen. Cordelle Cleare and Assemblymember Eddie Gibbs, whom he hopes will help him score points with voters in East Harlem. Cleare said she definitely supports Taylor as a candidate who can save Harlem and move the community forward. She said that she doesn’t see a “clash or war“ happening among Harlem electeds, it’s just people running for office.
The Amsterdam News reached back out to Richardson Jordan. She had no comment at this time in regards to Taylor’s announcement.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1