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David Dinkins (1927–2020), NYC’s only Black mayor

by Linnea Crowther

David Dinkins was the first and, to date, only Black mayor of New York City.

Political career

Dinkins began a career as a lawyer in 1956, and he served as president of the New York City Board of Elections from 1972 to 1973 and New York City Clerk from 1975 to 1985. In 1985, he was elected Manhattan borough president, serving until his election as mayor in 1989. Dinkins ran against incumbent Ed Koch (1924 – 2013), beating him in the Democratic primary and facing off against future Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the general. Dinkins won on a platform of advancing racial harmony, famously describing his city’s diversity as a “gorgeous mosaic.” After inheriting a city with a high crime rate, Dinkins oversaw a modest reduction in the homicide rate, though crime remained high enough to be seen as a failing of his single term as mayor. Among the incidents that loomed large in his term was several days of rioting in Crown Heights after the accidental killing of a young Black boy. Dinkins’ perceived failure to contain the unrest was cited among the reasons he lost his bid for a second term to Guiliani. In later years, Dinkins was a professor at Columbia University and hosted a talk radio program on WLIB.

Notable quote

“Sometimes people ask me what I want to be remembered for. And I always say, I want to be remembered as somebody who cared about people, especially children.” —from a 2019 interview with Gotham Gazette

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Tributes to David Dinkins

Full obituary: The New York Times

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