NEW YORK (AP) — David Dinkins, who broke barriers as New York City’s first African American mayor, but was doomed to a single term by a soaring murder rate, stubborn unemployment and his mishandling of a riot in Brooklyn, has died. He was 93.
Dinkins died Monday, the New York City Police Department confirmed. The department said officers were called to the former mayor’s home in the evening. Initial indications were that he died of natural causes.
Dinkins’ death came just weeks after the death of his wife, Joyce, who died in October at the age of 89.
Dinkins, a calm and courtly figure with a penchant for tennis and formal wear, was a dramatic shift from both his predecessor, Ed Koch, and his successor, Rudolph Giuliani — two combative and often abrasive politicians in a city with a world-class reputation for impatience and rudeness.
n 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.
“Dave, Do Something!” screamed one New York Post headline in 1990, Dinkins’ first year in office.
Dinkins did a lot at City Hall. He raised taxes to hire thousands of police officers. He spent billions of dollars revitalizing neglected housing. His administration got the Walt Disney Corp. to invest in the cleanup of then-seedy Times Square.
In recent years, he’s gotten more credit for those accomplishments, credit that Mayor Bill de Blasio said he should have always had. De Blasio, who worked in Dinkins’ administration, named Manhattan’s Municipal Building after the former mayor in October 2015.
“What a good man with a good heart who really just wanted to help people,” de Blasio said on WCBS radio Tuesday. The mayor, who met his wife, Chirlane McCray, while both were working for Dinkins, said he used to tell his mentor, “all I owe you is my marriage, my family, you know, my career, nothing else than that.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who herself shattered barriers as the state’s first Black woman elected to statewide office, said, “The example Mayor David Dinkins set for all of us shines brighter than the most powerful lighthouse imaginable.”
“I was honored to have him hold the bible at my inaugurations because I, and others, stand on his shoulders,” she said.
Results from his accomplishments, however, didn’t come fast enough to earn Dinkins a second term.
After beating Giuliani by only 47,000 votes out of 1.75 million cast in 1989, Dinkins lost a rematch by roughly the same margin in 1993.
Giuliani, now President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, tweeted his condolences to Dinkins’ family. “He gave a great deal of his life in service to our great City,” the former mayor said. “That service is respected and honored by all.”
Political historians often trace the defeat to Dinkins’ handling of the Crown Heights riot in Brooklyn in 1991.
The violence began after a Black 7-year-old boy was accidentally killed by a car in the motorcade of an Orthodox Jewish religious leader. 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.