By Sydney Kashiwagi, CNN
Washington (CNN) — An exonerated member of the Central Park Five, Yusef Salaam, is poised to win a Democratic primary race for a New York City Council seat in Harlem.
Salaam declared victory at a campaign event in Harlem Tuesday night, where he thanked the community for giving him a “second chance” after his exoneration and spoke about the adversity he once faced.
“This campaign has been about those who have been counted out,” Salaam said. “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.
As of Wednesday morning, Salaam had received 50.1% of the vote. CNN has not yet projected a winner in the race, and mail ballots that were postmarked Tuesday can still be received until July 4, but even if Salaam finishes just under 50%, he’d still easily be the best-positioned candidate to win once votes start getting redistributed.
The winner of the primary is almost certain to win the seat given the heavy Democratic tilt of the district.
Salaam was one of five teenagers accused of raping a jogger and pressured into giving false confessions. They were exonerated in 2002 when DNA evidence linked another person to the crime. The teenagers sued New York City and the case was later settled.
In the wake of the crime in 1989, former President Donald Trump took out full-page newspaper ads that read: “Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!”
On Tuesday night, Salaam recalled to his supporters what it was like to see those ads at the time.
“There were large ads bought in 1989, a whisper for the state to kill us,” Salaam said. “A whisper, in fact, into the darkest enclaves of society for them to do to us what they had done to Emmett Till.”
Trump said in an interview with Larry King that his newspaper ads were not “pre-judging” the five teens, but rather advocating for their execution if they were to be found guilty and the victim died. Trump also said his ads did not apply to minors, but said minors convicted of crimes should be locked up for a long time in the prison system. The former president has never apologized for taking out the ads.
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CNN’s Gregory Krieg and Ethan Cohen contributed to this report.