David Dinkins, who famously referred to the nation’s largest metropolis as a “gorgeous mosaic,” died of natural causes on Monday, Nov. 23, at the age of 93 at his Upper East Side home.
He became the first Black mayor of New York City in 1989.
A home health aide discovered Dinkins had stopped breathing and called 911, according to The New York Post.
His death comes a little more than a month after his wife, Joyce, died at their home. She was 89.
Dinkins was remembered on Twitter, where many praised the former mayor. “Dinkins was a devoted public servant and trailblazer who paved the way for other Black politicians. RIP”, one user posted.
Another tweeted, “I lived in NYC from 1979-1989, and my last civic action as a New Yorker was voting for Mayor Dinkins against Rudy Giuliani. I have never ever regretted that vote, and I am more proud of it today than I was even then.”
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In 1989, Dinkins defeated three-term incumbent Mayor Ed Koch in the Democratic primary and then beat Republican Rudy Giuliani to become the city’s 106th mayor.
Dinkins’ served one term that was a rough one with challenges including rising crime, the crack epidemic and racial unrest. He narrowly lost re-election in a 1993 rematch against Giuliani.
Still, even his critics praised Dinkins at the time for leading the city “with a grace and dignity,” The Post reported.
“David was a historic mayor. He showed that a black candidate can win biracial support in a citywide race,” said former Gov. David Paterson, who became New York state’s first African-American chief executive. “There’s a special appreciation for him. He tried very hard to be the mayor of all the people.”
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton described Dinkins as a forerunner to Barack Obama. “He was elected saying the same things,” Sharpton said. “He helped to change the psychology of American politics, making it more inclusive and more progressive.”
Dinkins was born on July 10, 1927, in Trenton, NJ, and moved to Harlem when he was young. He returned to Trenton to attend high school.
World World II interrupted his studies at Howard University and he served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He later returned to Howard, graduating with honors and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
Dinkins married Howard classmate Joyce Burrow and earned his law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1956.
Soon after law school, Dinkins got involved in Democratic Party politics in New York City. He formed a long-lasting alliance with three other up-and-coming Harlemites — Charles Rangel, Basil Paterson, and Percy Sutton. They became known as the Gang of Four and grew to be the most powerful force in the city’s Black political establishment, especially in Harlem.
In 1965, Dinkins won a seat in the state Assembly, serving one term.
He was credited with helping create a program that provided state grants to college students from low-income families. In 1972, Dinkins was appointed president of the city’s Board of Education. Then-Mayor Abe Beame asked Dinkins to serve as his deputy mayor. Dinkins, however, declined the job after news surfaced about unpaid taxes, a debt he later paid off.
When his pal Sutton stepped down as Manhattan borough president in 1977, Dinkins ran unsuccessfully for the post. He ran again in 1981 and lost. But in 1985, he ran once again and won.
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One Hundred Black Men of New York (OHBM), a community organization Dinkins and four others founded in 1963, issued a statement commemorating Dinkins’ life. “While Mayor Dinkins made history as the first Black Mayor and faced several challenges in his role, he never strayed from his commitment to OHBM. He remained an incredible source of wisdom and camaraderie for all members of the organization.”
Dinkins founded One Hundred Black Men of New York with Robert Mangum (deputy police commissioner in New York City and later the chairman of the New York chapter of the National Urban League), baseball legend Jackie Robinson (who broke the baseball color line when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base on April 15, 1947), prominent Black businessman J. Bruce Llewellyn and social activist Cyril deGrasse Tyson.