NEW YORK – Few American leaders have faced the battery of urban ills that confronted David Dinkins when he became New York City's first Black mayor in 1990.
AIDS. Crack cocaine. A soaring murder rate. Rampant homelessness. Racial discord.
Dinkins was elected with high hopes of turning things around, but he became a lightning rod for criticism in his one tumultuous term in office, especially for his handling of a riot in Brooklyn.
It wasn’t until years later that he started getting credit for his efforts to reduce crime, heal divisions and lay the groundwork for the prosperous, tourist-friendly place that New York City became.
Dinkins died Monday night at age 93, according to his assistant at Columbia University, where he taught after leaving office, and by Mayor Bill de Blasio, his onetime staffer. The former mayor’s death came just weeks after the death of his wife, Joyce, who died in October at age 89.
“David Dinkins believed that we could be better, believed we could overcome our divisions,” de Blasio said at a news briefing Tuesday. “He showed us what it was like to be a gentleman, to be a kind person no matter what was thrown at him. And a lot was thrown at him.”
A calm and courtly figure with a penchant for tennis and formalwear, Dinkins was a stark departure from both his predecessor, Ed Koch, and his successor, Rudy Giuliani — two combative and often abrasive politicians in a city with a world-class reputation for impatience and rudeness.
In 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.”