Two Democratic state lawmakers vying to succeed retiring Rep. Charles Rangel in Congress are touting competing endorsements from the Central Park Five -- a group of men who went to prison but were later exonerated in the 1989 rape and assault of a jogger in Central Park.
State Sen. Bill Perkins announced his candidacy Saturday with a small rally in East Harlem near Central Park and two of the Five standing alongside him. Raymond Santana, who served about seven years behind bars, said Perkins "became like family to us."
"A lot of politicians wouldn't touch this case. . . . Only a handful of people ran toward this case, one of these people being Mr. Bill Perkins," Santana said. "This speaks of a man's character. This speaks of a man's integrity."
Kharey Wise, who spent 13 years in prison, was also at Perkins' event in Schomburg Plaza. But another of the Five said in a news release that he was endorsing a Perkins opponent in the race, state Assemb. Keith Wright.
"Keith championed the effort and pressured Albany for 20 years before New York became a national model for criminal justice reform," Yusef Salaam said in a statement, adding of the seven years he was in prison for the wrongful conviction: "This experience is why I do not take justice and fairness for granted."
Santana, Wise and Salaam were among the five juveniles whose convictions were vacated in 2002 after another man confessed to the crime. Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration settled a civil suit in the wrongful conviction case in June 2014 for about $41 million. Perkins Saturday called the settlement "justice."
Perkins, 66, and Wright, 60, are both from Harlem. Perkins was elected to the State Senate in 2006 and also served on the City Council. Wright was elected to the state Assembly in 1992.
The retirement of Rangel, 85, after 23 terms is expected to lead to a competitive race in 2016. The district extends from Harlem and East Harlem through upper Manhattan and part of the Bronx.