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Dinkins, David N. (1927- )

Image Ownership: Public Domain
In 1989, David N. Dinkins defeated his challenger, former federal prosecutor Rudolph (Rudy) Giuliani, to become the first African American mayor of New York City.

David Norman Dinkins was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1927. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at 18 and served briefly in World War II.  After the war, he attended Howard University, graduating with a B.A. in Mathematics in 1950.  Dinkins moved to New York City and received a law degree from the Brooklyn Law School in 1956.  Dinkins is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

David Dinkins’s political career began when he joined the Carver Club headed by a charismatic politician, J. Raymond Jones who was known as the Harlem Fox.  Dinkins befriended three up and coming black New York politicians; Charles Rangel, Basil Paterson, Sr., and Percy Sutton.  In 1965, Dinkins won his first electoral office, a seat in the New York State Assembly. Shortly afterwards Dinkins was offered the position of deputy mayor of New York by then Mayor Abraham Beam.  Dinkins could not accept the post when it was revealed he had not paid income taxes for the past four years.

Dinkins did manage to secure the position of city clerk for New York which he held from 1975 to 1985. On his third run for the office, Dinkins was elected Manhattan’s Borough President in 1985.  In 1989, Dinkins decided to run for Mayor of New York.  He surprised political observers by defeating three time incumbent Mayor Ed Koch in the Democratic primaries.  Despite facing a strong Republican challenger in former federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani, Dinkins narrowly won the mayor’s race. 

Dinkins presided over a city well known for its municipal crises.  His term, however, was particularly turbulent because an unprecedented crack epidemic and the resulting drug wars swept through the city.  Especially affected were the impoverished African American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods that formed the core of Dinkins’s constituency. The crack epidemic also spawned a crime wave that exacerbated racial tensions. 

Two episodes particularly tested the Mayor’s ability to be an effective municipal leader. In 1989, shortly after Dinkins took office, a young white woman was allegedly raped and brutalized by marauding black youth in Central Park.  Months later a black teenager was murdered when he ventured into a white ethnic Brooklyn neighborhood. In both episodes Dinkins calmed racial tensions and earned an image as a peacemaker.  Although Dinkins presided over a decrease in crime in the city, balanced the city budget by turning a $1.8 billion dollar deficit into a $200 million surplus, and maintained racial peace after the Rodney King verdict sparked rioting in a number of cities across the nation, he never completely shed his image as an ineffective political leader.  The 1993 election proved a political rematch of 1989.  This time, however, Rudolph Giuliani narrowly defeated David Dinkins for the Mayor’s office.  

Former Mayor Dinkins accepted a professorship at Columbia University’s Center for Urban Research and Policy in 1994.  Although he has endorsed various political candidates and clashed with fellow New Yorker and Presidential aspirant Al Shapton, Dinkins has not sought elective office.

Sources:
Kwame Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999); Alston Hornsby Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders  (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2006); www.answers.com

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University of Washington

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