David Dinkins, NYC’s first Blackmayor, dies at 93
NEW YORK— David Dinkins, who broke barriers as New York City’s first African American mayor, has died at the age of 93. He was kept to a single term, from 1990 to 1993, by a soaring murder rate, stubborn unemployment and his mishandling of a riot in Brooklyn.
Dinkins’ death Monday was confirmed by his assistant at Columbia University, where he taught after leaving office, and by Mayor Bill de Blasio, his onetime staffer.
In his inaugural address, he spoke lovingly of New York as a “gorgeous mosaic of race and religious faith, of national origin and sexual orientation, of individuals whose families arrived yesterday and generations ago, coming through Ellis Island or Kennedy Airport or on buses bound for the Port Authority.”
But the city he inherited had an ugly side, too. AIDS, guns and crack cocaine killed thousands of people each year. Unemployment soared. Homelessness was rampant. The city faced a $1.5 billion budget deficit.
Dinkins’ low-key, considered approach quickly came to be perceived as a flaw. Critics said he was too soft and too slow. He raised taxes to hire thousands of police officers. He spent billions of dollars revitalizing neglected housing. His administration got Walt Disney Corp. to invest in the cleanup of Times Square.
In recent years, he’s gotten more credit for those accomplishments, which de Blasio said Dinkins should have always had. Dinkins didn’t get fast enough results from his efforts, though, to earn a second term. Political historians often trace the defeat to Dinkins’
handling of the Crown Heights riot in Brooklyn in 1991.
The violence began after a car in the motorcade of an Orthodox Jewish religious leader struck and killed 7-yearold Gavin Cato, who was Black. During the three days of anti-Jewish rioting by young Black men that followed, a rabbinical student was fatally stabbed. Nearly 190 people were hurt.
A state report issued in 1993— an election year — cleared Dinkins of the persistently repeated charge that he intentionally held back police in the first days of the violence, but criticized his leadership.
In a 2013 memoir, Dinkins accused the police department of letting the disturbance get out of hand, and also took a share of the blame, on the grounds that “the buck stopped with me.” But he bitterly blamed his election defeat on prejudice: “I think it was just racism, pure and simple.”
Born in Trenton, N.J., on July 10, 1927, Dinkins moved with his mother to Harlem when his parents divorced, but returned to his hometown to attend high school.
During a stint in the Marine Corps as a young man, a Southern bus driver barred him from boarding a segregated bus because the section for Black people was filled.
“And I was in my country’s uniform!” Dinkins recounted years later.
Dinkins attended Howard University in Washington. Returning to New York, Dinkins married his college sweetheart, Joyce Burrows, in 1953.
His father-in-law, a power in local Democratic politics, channeled Dinkins into a Harlem political club. Dinkins paid his dues as a Democratic functionary while earning a law degree from Brooklyn Law School, and then went into private practice.
He was elected to the state Assembly in 1965, became the first Black president of the city’s Board of Elections in 1972 and went on to serve as Manhattan borough president.
During Dinkins’ tenure as mayor, the city’s finances were in rough shape because of a recession that cost New York 357,000 private-sector jobs in his first three years in office.
Meanwhile, the city’s murder toll soared to an all-time high, with a record 2,245 homicides during his first year as mayor. There were 8,340 New Yorkers killed during the Dinkins administration — the bloodiest four-year stretch since the New York Police Department began keeping statistics in 1963.
In the last years of his administration, record-high homicides began a decline that continued for decades.
Dinkins’ wife, Joyce, died last month at the age of 89. He is survived by his son, David Jr.; daughter, Donna; and two grandchildren.