The race for a central Harlem City Council seat that is being abandoned by a one-term council member has turned into one of the most competitive contests in the city, as two of the candidates team up in a push to elbow out a third challenger.

Assemblymember Al Taylor and first-time candidate Yusef Salaam — who in 2002 was exonerated with the rest of the Central Park Five — this week urged voters to rank themselves over Assemblymember Inez Dickens, who previously held the area’s Council seat for a decade.

The three Democratic candidates are competing to fill the City Council District 9 post that is being vacated by Kristin Richardson Jordan, also a Democrat.

Taylor and Salaam joined forces by turning to ranked choice voting as a way to cut out Dickens, who was first elected to the Council seat in 2006. Ranked choice voting was introduced to city voters in 2021, allowing them to rank up to five candidates in municipal primaries by order of preference.

Assemblymember Inez Dickens is running for the Harlem City Council seat. Credit: Inez E. Dickens/Facebook

“It was so profound that we were thinking very similar thoughts even though we had some differences,” Salaam said, according to CBS News New York, with Taylor adding that he is “running on the issues and not any individuals.”

First-term Councilmember Richardson Jordan dropped her reelection bid last month after being elected in 2021 by a 114-vote margin in a 13-candidate primary that included Bill Perkins, the longtime Harlem politico who passed away last month.

Early voting begins Saturday for the citywide party primary election that is expected to have low voter turnout, due to the month and the fact that only local offices are on the ballot.

Richardson Jordan bowed out May 16, partially blaming the “Harlem machine” and bad press for an abrupt exit from the crowded contest, even though her name will still appear on the ballot for the June 27 primary; she dropped out after the ballot list had been set by city election officials.

Outgoing City Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan spoke at an affordable housing rally outside City Hall, May 11, 2022. Credit: John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit

While all 51 City Council seats are up for grabs this election cycle, the District 9 race is the only one in the city in which an incumbent candidate opted not to seek reelection.

While Taylor and Salaam have formed an alliance, Dickens boasted during a Tuesday night debate on NY1 that she is flying solo.

“Inez Dickens number 1, period,” she said.

A Dickens spokesperson told THE CITY that the Assemblymember is unlikely to endorse anyone else prior to the primary.

“When you’re on top, people try to knock you down,” said the spokesperson, Lupe Todd-Medina.

Striking a Match

All of the candidates are taking part in the Campaign Finance Board’s matching funds program, which provides public money to qualifying candidates running for office in the city.

The voluntary public financing system provides candidates who raise a certain threshold of funds on their own with an 8-to-1 taxpayer-funded match for donations up to $175.

Both Taylor and Dickens started receiving matching funds months before Salaam, records show.

Dickens has collected more than $162,000 in matching funds, according to the latest records from the CFB, while Taylor has brought in just over $174,000.

Earlier this month, Salaam received nearly $117,000 in matching funds, records show.

Up for Debate

During the NY1 debate Tuesday, the candidates discussed issues that included housing for asylum-seekers and the controversial One45 development, a proposed Harlem development project that initially included 900 apartments. 

Richardson Jordan did not support the project, which was later withdrawn by the developer — and the site at the corner of Lenox Avenue and 145th Street is now a truck depot

“I would look at it and say to the developer, to the stakeholders — let’s come into this room,” Taylor said. “We’re not leaving the table until we come up with what is going to be needed.

“I would not have walked away from the table, shutting it down was not a good idea.”

Dickens said she always supported the plan for hundreds of new apartments, “because we are in dire need of housing.” 

And Salaam pledged to meet with the developer, Bruce Teitelbaum, to try to kickstart another development, should he be elected.

“How do we get what we want while they are negotiating to get what they want?” he said. “The problem is walking away and getting nothing.”

In the debate, the candidates also discussed public safety issues, including siting a marijuana dispensary in the district. 

Dickens has received the most endorsements in the race, including from current City Council members, the United Federation of Teachers, and U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-Harlem). She also has picked up support from local pastors and religious leaders, according to her campaign. 

Taylor has been endorsed by Harlem’s Democratic state Senator Cordell Cleare — who once served as Perkins’ chief of staff — and Assemblymember Eddie Gibbs, according to his website.

And Salaam has been supported by Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell (D-Manhattan) former Assemblymember and Democratic party leader Keith Wright, and public intellectual — now presidential candidate — Cornel West, among others.