David Dinkins, New York City’s only Black mayor, has died at the age of 93. Dinkins was born in Trenton, New Jersey on July 10, 1927. Always the trailblazer Dinkins was one of the first Blacks to serve in the Marine Corps, graduated with honors from Howard University, and received his law degree from Brooklyn School Of Law. Dinkins began his political career by serving in the New York State Assembly in 1966, eventually advancing to Manhattan borough president in 1985.
Dinkins won election in 1989 as the city’s 106th mayor, beating federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani by 47,000 votes, the narrowest margin in New York history. Upon taking office Mayor Dinkins faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the form of racial division, a soaring crime rate, and the ravishes of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Never one to run from a fight, Mayor Dinkins took on the big city blight and laid the groundwork for a New York City renaissance.
Speaking frequently of what he called New York’s “gorgeous mosaic” of racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, Dinkins championed economic equality and education for people of color, and famously said shortly after taking office “I intend to be the mayor of all of the people of New York. This administration will never lead by dividing, by setting some of us against the rest of us or by favoring one group over others”
While in office, Dinkins expanded affordable housing to combat homelessness, pushed for measures to tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis and took several steps to address the city’s high crime rate.
Most notably, Dinkins pushed for a major expansion of the NYPD, dubbed the “Safe Streets, Safe City” program, and by the time he left office, the city’s crime rate had already begun to drop, a trend that lasted for nearly three decades. The reduction of crime was a priority of Dinkins but he believed his greatest accomplishment as Mayor was his ability to “keeping each branch library open at a time when we had little or no money” because he believed education was the first step in combating society’s ills.
Dinkins narrowly lost his reelection bid to Rudolph Giuliani in 1993. The former prosecutor latched on to racial mistrust and cast Dinkins as anti-police although he was responsible for the largest officer expansion in NYC history. In his 2013 memoir, “A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic,” Dinkins said racism was a key factor in his reelection loss.
After leaving the mayor’s office in 1994, Dinkins became a professor of public policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Though Dinkins has been out of politics for decades his legacy lives on through current New York Mayor Bill De Blasio. The current mayor got his start in city politics working as a 28-year-old volunteer coordinator in Dinkins 1989 campaign, and later served as a City Hall aide in the Dinkins administration.
“The first and the only Black mayor of NYC, he cherished our “gorgeous mosaic” & served the city & state over a career spanning decades with the hope of unity and a deep kindness,” De Blasio wrote. “My friend, you will be missed.”
Dinkins wife, Joyce Dinkins, former first lady of New York City, passed away on October 11 at age 89. Dinkins is survived by two children and two grandchildren.