David Dinkins, who was elected New York City’s first black mayor in 1989 and famously referred to the nation’s largest metropolis as a “gorgeous mosaic,” died Monday night at his home, sources told The Post.
He was 93 years old.
Dinkins — who defeated three-term incumbent Ed Koch in the 1989 Democratic primary — beat Republican Rudy Giuliani that year to become the city’s 106th mayor.
He would serve one-term until 1993, when he narrowly lost his re-election bid in a re-match against his GOP foe.
His turbulent time in office was marked by rampant crime and racial unrest. But despite the turmoil, he led the city with a grace and dignity that was respected even by his political foes and left him an admired figure when his tenure was long over.
“David was a historic mayor. He showed that a black candidate can win biracial support in a city-wide race,” said former Gov. David Paterson, who became the first African-American governor.
“There’s a special appreciation for him. He tried very hard to be the mayor of all the people.”
Dinkins led the nation’s largest city two decades before Barack Obama was elected the first African-American president.
“David Dinkins was a forerunner to Barack Obama. He was elected saying the same things,” said civil right activist Al Sharpton.
“He helped to change the psychology of American politics, making it more inclusive and more progressive.”
Whether residents agreed or disagreed with his liberal politics, Dinkins was loved by many.
“He maintained dignity, class and gentlemanly-ness so rare in today’s world,” said Ken Sunshine, who served as Dinkins’ first chief of staff .
“He was almost too nice to be mayor of New York,” Sharpton said.
Born on July 10, 1927 in Trenton, N.J., the young Dinkins and his family moved to Harlem but he returned to Trenton to attend high school.
He enrolled at Howard University, though his studies were disrupted by World World II.
He served in the United States Marine Corps before returning to Howard, where he graduated with honors and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
Dinkins married a Howard classmate, Joyce Burrow, and earned his law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1956.
As Dinkins got more involved in Democratic Party politics in New York City, he would form an alliance with three other up and coming Harlemites — Charles Rangel, Basil Paterson and Percy Sutton.
They would later become known as the Gang of Four, the most powerful force in the city’s black politic establishment, particularly in Harlem.
His first big step in politics was wining a seat to the State Assembly, in 1965, where he served one-term.
The future mayor began making a name for himself. He was credited with helping creating a program that provided state grant to college students from low income families.
Dinkins was appointed president of the city’s Board of Education in 1972. Then-Mayor Abe Beam later tapped Dinkins to serve as deputy mayor. But Dinkins declined the job after embarrassing stories surfaced about unpaid taxes, a debt he later paid off.
Dinkins was subsequently appointed to the mostly ceremonial post of city clerk.
When his pal Sutton stepped down as Manhattan borough president in 1977, Dinkins ran for the post — but lost.
He would lose again, to Andrew Stein in 1981.
But the third time was the charm for Dinkins, who was elected borough president in 1985.
Some longtime associates were surprised when Dinkins sought the mayoralty, describing him as a reluctant warrior.
For much of his political career, Dinkins never talked about running for mayor, said David Paterson, the son of Dinkins longtime pal Basil Paterson.
“David was superambitious about becoming borough president. He didn’t have the ambition to become mayor,” Paterson said.
“Dinkins was kind of pushed into the race against Mayor Ed Koch.”
Dinkins was methodical guy who plowed ahead and after prodding from supporters, he sought the prize — becoming New York City’s CEO.
The year was 1989.
By that point, Koch had become unpopular and polarizing figure amid a municipal corruption scandal. And Koch’s forceful personality, prickly humor and blunt speaking style — once an asset — had turned into a liability, particularly with minority voters upset about racial strife and police brutality cases.
During the Democratic primary, Dinkins portrayed himself as a stabilizing force and antidote to the provocative Koch, who he beat by nearly 100,000 votes. He would go on to beat Giuliani 50 percent to 47 percent.
Dinkins’ mayoralty was a challenging one.
Crime was a major issue. The city was reeling with more than 2,000 murders a year, a crack epidemic and 1 million New Yorkers on welfare following a recession .
The Post expressed the anxious mood of the city with a front page headline, “Dave, Do Something.”
He personally lobbied in Albany — accompanied by then-Council Speaker Peter Vallone — and persuaded the state Legislature to approve an income tax surcharge to finance the “Safe Streets, Safe City, Cops and Kids” program. The money was used to hire more cops to work on neighborhood patrols.
“Beacon was one of the smart projects he worked on,” Patterson said. “It spawned the idea the charter schools came up with, keep the kids in school later.”
One of the personal highlights of Dinkins’t tenure was welcoming to New York South African leader Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist who spent 27 years in prison.
“At times even those of us who were his supporters didn’t realize how important Dinkin’s election was. Then he escorted Mandela on stage in Harlem. . . . It was a ‘wow’ moment,” Paterson said.
For all the history making of the mayoralty, Dinkins governed a fragile divided city beset with a high crime rate and still recovering from a recession.
Perhaps the biggest fumble by the Dinkins administration was the belated response to racial rioting in Crown Heights in 1991.
The disturbances erupted after a station wagon driven by a Hasidic driver struck and killed black 7-year-old Gavin Cato. In retaliation, angry black youths assaulted Jewish residents. Yankel Rosenbaum, a 29-year-old Hasidic scholar, was stabbed to death.
A damning state report concluded Dinkjns “failed to act in a timely and decisive manner” and also rapped his Police Commissioner Lee Brown and for “inadequate” supervision.
“I wish I had challenged police accounts earlier,” Dinkins said at the time. “The larger lesson is, one has to challenge, cross-examine and question,” he said after the report’s release.
The report was released just months before his re-election bid, against Giuliani, a mob-busting former US Attorney. Many believe the mishandling of the Crown Heights contributed to Dinkins’ defeat.
Dinkins was initially elected as a healer. But now his critics — including rival Giuliani — said he couldn’t keep the peace and was soft on crime.
An earlier racially charged controversy had already put Dinkins’ City Hall on hits heels — a black activists boycott of a Korean-owned grocery store in Brooklyn’s Flatbush section. The protests were spurred by a dispute between a black customer and the grocer .
Dinkjns worked behind the scenes to try to end the boycott, which dragged on for eight months.
“The Crown Heights riot and the Korean deli boycott Dinkins handled with less than skill. The state report on the Crown Heights controversy did him in,” said Baruch College professor Doug Muzzio.
Dinkins’ mayoralty was dogged by another divisive issue — a growing and serious sessecionist movement on Staten Island, the city’s whitest and most conservative borough.
The ballot question on island secession — and when it would appear — was approved by former Gov. Mario Cuomo and the state Legislature over the city’s objection when Koch was mayor.
Giuliani supporters on Staten Islands fanned the secessionist flames as a campaign strategy to boost turnout for Giuliani.
“The Staten Island secession referendum didn’t help me. No question about it,” Dinkins told the Post in 2015.
A bill to enact Staten Island secession died in the state Legislature — without even a vote — saying it first needed “home rule” approval from the city.
By then, Dinkins had been voted out of office and Giuliani was mayor.
To this day, Dinkins’ supporters are still upset that he didn’t get re-elected, and said racial animosity was a factor in his defeat. Others said he deserved more credit for the reduction in crime, which started with the Safe Streets program.
“The road to a safer city was begun under Dinkins. That began the long and difficult road to where city is now,” Sunshine said. “Urban America got better and safer.”
After leaving office, Dinkins joined Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs as a professor in public Policy in 1994.
He also kept engaging in activism, as he was arrested for criminal trespassing as part of a public protest in 1999 against the shooting death of unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 bullets fired by four white police officers.
“He was selective. But when he weighed in, he had a lot of gravitas,” Sharpton said of Dinkins.
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