3 challengers vie for open Harlem Council seat, with voters' rankings at stake

It’s a race for a rare open Harlem City Council seat, after the one-term incumbent, Kristen Richardson Jordan, dropped out. And it could all come down to how voters rank these three challengers.


Controversial City Council member drops out of Harlem race

Kristin Richardson Jordan, who represents Harlem's 9th Council District, announced that she would be dropping out of the race following a turbulent first few years in office.

In Central Harlem, a small group gathered outside the Adam Clayton Powell Jr State Office Building to raise the African flag in celebration of Juneteenth.

Front and center were three candidates all running against each other for the District 9 Council seat- one of the most competitive contests this primary season.  Assemblywoman Inez Dickens, Assemblyman Al Taylor and Yusef Salaam – one of the exonerated Central Park Five.

All three candidates shook hands on Monday, but just a few days earlier there was tension brewing between the challengers.

"Inez Dickens number one," Dickens yelled at a campaign event.

Dickens formerly held this council seat for 10 years before running for the State Assembly.

She has since garnered some hefty endorsements including from the United Federation of Teachers and Mayor Eric Adams.

But Dickens says now the two men in the race are teaming up to try and cut her out.

"I don't want their endorsement because their endorsement doesn't mean anything," Dickens said referring to Taylor and Salaam. 

Both Taylor and Salaam have cross endorsed each other, asking voters to rank the other number two.

But Taylor says this is nothing against Dickens, it’s just how ranked choice voting works.

"Yusef and I talked and we agreed that we will be each other's number two," Taylor said. 

Salaam also says there was nothing personal about the cross endorsement and says that he thinks neither of the two assembly seats should be left open.

"I've told people very, very clearly look, we have two powerful seats that represent Harlem in the Assembly," Salaam explained. 

Salaam says he is running as an agent of change.

When we asked what that meant, he pointed at the trash littering the sidewalk around where we were standing.

"I'm sure if you go into other districts where there are government buildings, there's somebody cleaning up the place," Salaam said. "I've been fighting for justice for 34 years since I was 15 years old. And more importantly, the next person to assume the seat of city councilmember in Central Harlem is going to be the person who determines what the future of Harlem looks like."


Yusef Salaam: Once wrongly imprisoned for rape, runs for New York office

Salaam said he's eager to address those crises and more. His opponents say he doesn’t know enough about how local government works to do so.

Taylor says he brings experience and can gather powerful stakeholders from his time in Albany.

"I'm accessible, I’m available," Taylor said. "I walk three to five miles a day when I'm not in Albany and the reason I'm here is because I'm able to bring people to the table."

However, Dickens will argue the same when it comes to experience, saying at one event that she has the mayor’s cell phone number.

"Tell me what candidate got his cell phone," Dickens said at a campaign event. "Certainly not one that moves from Georgia. Certainly not the one that that flip flops and flip flips."

On paper there are many similarities between the three candidates.


NYC migrant crisis: Former Harlem jail to house migrants

New York City officials have reviewed over 700 potential sites to house migrants, as over 2,200 have arrived in the city in the past week.

All three challengers agree that the biggest issue to face Central Harlem is affordable housing and a lack of housing altogether.

Taylor says his plan to tackle this problem would be to work with community stakeholders to build developments that will keep Harlem families in Harlem.

"If I got a one bedroom or a studio and I started raising my family, I have to move," Taylor said. "But if we do two and three bedrooms, I'm in there for a long time, so it doesn't move the stability of the community."

On the opposite side, Dickens says increasing affordable housing starts small and requires working with developers.

"It's understanding how you can increase the number of units for a reduced AMI without killing the development," Dickens said. "If there are commercial or retail units on the first and second floor, then you might have to see to it that they pay market to help to underwrite the affordability of the residential units."

And Salaam says his plan would be to incentivize developers to turn empty or abandoned buildings into housing.

"Solving for poverty is solving for affordability," Salaam says. 

The incumbent Kristen Richardson Jordan, dropped out of the race about a month ago after facing fierce backlash for her anti-cop views and other far left ideologies. Her name however will still appear on the ballot.

Primary day is June 27th.