NYC's first African American mayor, David Dinkins, dies at 93

Cheryl Sanders
November 24, 2020

David Dinkins, the 106th Mayor of NY and to date the only Black person to serve in the role, died Monday from undisclosed causes.

Leaders and officials are reacting to the death of boundary-breaking former New York City Mayor David Dinkins.

"I think it was just racism, pure and simple", Mr Dinkins said in A Mayor's Life: Governing New York's Gorgeous Mosaic, written with Peter Knobler. Elected Manhattan borough president in 1985, he ran for mayor in 1989, narrowly defeating Rudy Giuliani who, in what is now a historical irony, conceded on election night with only a difference of 50,000 votes between them.

History-making probably wasn't on Dinkins radar when he grew up in both Trenton, New Jersey, and in Harlem.

He died just over a month after his wife, Joyce Dinkins, passed away at 89.


But it was his role in the 1991 Crown Heights riot that would most define his mayoralty.

More than a million New Yorkers were on welfare following the recession, and over 1 000 murders were being reported annually.

And his consequent defeat at the ballot box is put down to his handling of the race riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 1991, after a young black boy was accidentally killed by a auto in the motorcade of an Orthodox Jewish religious leader.

His administration had one early high note: Newly freed Nelson Mandela made New York City his first stop in the U.S.in 1990.

While attending Howard University, the historically black university in Washington, D.C., Dinkins said he gained admission to segregated movie theatres by wearing a turban and faking a foreign accent. Dinkins recounted years later.


One of Dinkins' great accomplishments was expanding the U.S. Tennis Association in Queens and keeping the U.S. Open in NY for decades to come. Mr Dinkins had been a longtime, outspoken critic of apartheid in South Africa.

In that same year, though, Mr Dinkins was criticised for his handling of a black-led boycott of Korean-operated grocery stores in Brooklyn.

"One would have gotten the impression that on December 31, 1989, there was no crime, and on the next day, when I took office, the homicide rate was over 2,000 a year, as though it had occurred overnight", Dinkins wrote in his 2013 autobiography, "A Mayor's Life".

Dinkins admitted several times over the years that goal of fostering racial harmony in NY fell short, but in his memoir, he wrote that he believed it was racism that cost him the election to Giuliani in 1993. That deal guaranteed that the US Open would remain in New York City for decades.

Dinkins was known for his reserved public demeanor and civility. He also was admitted to hospital in March 1992 for a bacterial infection that stemmed from an abscess on the wall of his large intestine.


He is survived by his son, David Jr, daughter, Donna, and two grandchildren.

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