With a potential victory in Harlem’s 9th District in the City Council on the horizon, Yusef Salaam, a political novice and member of the Exonerated Five, is expressing gratitude for the support he received throughout his campaign. 

“As I walked around my community and touched every single person in our district, I constantly felt a sense that I was being lifted up. People kept telling me, ‘Thank you for running, we need change, we've been needing change,’” he said during an appearance on “Mornings On 1” Thursday. 

“They knew my story. They knew my 34 years of struggle; they knew exactly where I came from. They knew that I could have remained a private citizen, but to take my pain and turn it into purpose, to take my platform and really do something about the conditions of our people, has really, really resonated with our people in a tremendous way,” he added 

Votes in Tuesday's Democratic primary are still being tallied, but Salaam currently maintains a lead over his opponents, Assemblymembers Inez Dickens and Al Taylor. An official win would put Salaam in the seat left vacant by Kristin Richardson Jordan, who chose not to seek reelection. With no Republican challenger on the ballot, a victory in the primary would secure a win in the general election on Nov. 7. 

As a member of the Exonerated Five – a group of five Black and Latino teens wrongfully convicted for the rape of a jogger in Central Park in 1989 – a major issue Salaam hopes to tackle in the City Council is criminal justice reform. 

Specifically, he said he would like to “right size the scope of the NYPD.” 

“Resizing the scope of the police is talking about the budget. We need police to do the work that they're doing. We need a budget that's going to be robust, that allows them to do exactly what they need to do. But we also have savings that we can find there because we need services in our community that provide alternatives,” he said. 

Salaam clarified that he does not advocate for defunding the police. Instead, he emphasized the need for police to ensure community safety. 

“One of the pushes that I've had is making sure that police officers go back into the community and walk the neighborhoods,” he said. 

“They don't have to come from the district but if they come from the boroughs, it gives us an opportunity to have the people who are protecting it serving us come from us and understand us in a way that is inside out as opposed from the outside in.”