David N. Dinkins, the first Black mayor of New York City, dead at 93

Herb Boyd & Nayaba Arinde | 11/24/2020, 12:12 a.m.
David N. Dinkins, the first Black mayor of New York City, dead at 93
Mayor David Dinkins Bill Moore photo

David N. Dinkins, New York City’s first African American mayor, often referred to the people in his hometown as the “gorgeous mosaic,” his wife as his “beautiful bride,” and men he only vaguely remembered as “buddy.” He governed with the same easy-going, graceful manner, a kind of laid-back charm that was often mistaken for diffidence or lack of assertiveness. All of these factors, as well as some far less kind, will be invoked as we remember him. Dinkins, 93, died on Monday at his upper-eastside home in Manhattan.

His death was confirmed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who began his association with Dinkins as a volunteer in the 1989 mayoral campaign and then worked as an aide to him for four years. “He was a good man with a good heart,” the mayor said Tuesday morning on WCBS 880. “We miss him already. This is a guy who just, for so many of us…he was a person who put us on the path to public service and showed us the right way to do it.”

Years before attaining the mayoral office, Dinkins labored, almost anonymously in the political vineyards, where he was mentored by J. Raymond Jones, the legendary “Harlem Fox,” and later winning a state assembly seat in 1965. Meanwhile, he became a member of the so-called Gang of Four, joining the late Percy E. Sutton, Basil Paterson, and the surviving member, former Rep. Charles B. Rangel. No longer in office, Dinkins was president of the Board of Elections in 1972-73, where he increased the size of the voter rolls. When Mayor Abraham Beame nominated him to be the city’s first Black deputy mayor, he withdrew after admitting he had not filed income tax returns from 1969 to 1972. “He contended that he thought he had paid everything,” Wilbur Rich wrote in his book David Dinkins and New York City Politics.

Two years later, Beame appointed Dinkins to City Clerk, another patronage job, Rich noted, and a post he would hold for ten years. In 1977 and again in 1981 he was defeated in bids for Manhattan Borough President before winning it in 1985. It was in this capacity that he began to renew a tarnished reputation with his concern for the homeless, and those afflicted with AIDS.

Mayor David Dinkins with Nelson and Winnie Mandela

Lem Peterkin photo

Mayor David Dinkins with Nelson and Winnie Mandela

Lynda Hamilton sent a statement on behalf of the Dinkins’ family, “

The Dinkins family wishes to express their appreciation to everyone who has reached out with condolences, respect, and love. David N. Dinkins was a devoted family man whose love had no bounds. He extended his wealth of compassion to the citizens of New York City and beyond the five boroughs of its Gorgeous Mosaic. As we mourn his passing, we cherish the legacy that he left behind. He showed us how to care for one another with dignity and grace. He fought for what he believed in and never compromised his principles.”

Hamilton added, ”As the 106th Mayor of New York City and the first African American to hold that office, our patriarch’s place in history is secure. He was a trailblazer who forged a path for others to follow. He will live on as today’s and future leaders trace and advance from those footsteps.”

Born David Norman Dinkins in Trenton, New Jersey on July 10, 1927, he was the son of William Harvey Dinkins, Jr., a native of Virginia. When his parents separated and later divorced, Dinkins, with his mother and sister, Joyce, moved to Harlem. But he and his sister subsequently moved to Trenton with their father and their stepmother, Lottie Hartgell. Dinkins attended Trenton Central High School where he was a good student, particularly in Latin. After graduation in 1945, there was a brief stint in the Army before transferring to the Marines. He was discharged a year later and with the assistance of the GI Bill of Rights he enrolled at Howard University, majoring in mathematics and graduating with honors in 1950.

It was at Howard that he met Joyce Burrows, his “bride,” (she died Oct. 11 at 89); they were married in 1953 and had two children, David, Jr. and Donna Dinkins Hoggard, whose husband Jay Hoggard is a noted the jazz vibist. Joyce’s father, Daniel Burrows, was an insurance and real estate broker with important political connections. He, along with the Harlem Fox, would play decisive roles in Dinkins’ political education and development.

As Manhattan Borough President, Dinkins was the ranking African American politician in the city, and when the Tawana Brawley incident captured the media, he realized that he would have to be very cautious about his response, particularly to the Black community about the allegations of rape. Playing his cards close to the vest, Dinkins kept a political balance between Gov. Mario Cuomo and the Rev. Al Sharpton, summing up his concerns in a letter to the New York Times editor stating that “I must work on my own timetable, not one dictated by news deadlines and headlines.” He had cleverly steered clear of hurting his chance for a mayoral bid, though he had told the press he had no great desire to be the city’s mayor.

But like the editor of this paper, Wilbert Tatum, something had to be done to get Ed Koch out of office. The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s relative success in 1988 presidential run and Herman “Denny” Farrell’s failure in 1985 cropped up with Dinkins’ name being bandied about for a mayoral bid. He launched his campaign in the heat of racial strife in the city—the Central Park jogger incident and the murder of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst.

Having assembled a confederation of labor unions, civic groups, and a collection of minorities, Dinkins had a decisive headwind into the Democratic primaries, much of it attributable to the late Bill Lynch, “the rumpled genius,” as his campaign manager. He soundly trounced Koch and narrowly edged Rudy Giuliani, the Republican candidate.

There was a celebration in the Black community that presaged the one that erupted in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama.

It’s an understatement to say that the Dinkins’ four years were tumultuous, and he did his best to apply a balm to ease tensions, heal wounds, and bring about the general goodwill that was so much part of his genial demeanor. But he assumed office with insurmountable obstacles, to say nothing of budget shortfall, an often hostile white media and police department. If there was no dramatic accomplishments, there were also no disastrous consequences; there were a few highlights in housing, education improvements, and a carefully attended Times Square. Things began to unravel for him after the Crown Heights crisis, but there are other facets about his legacy worth recalling.

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger said; “The Columbia community mourns the loss of David N. Dinkins. We feel with his passing the end of an era. We knew David as the rest of New York did, as a person of wisdom, empathy, uncompromising integrity, and homespun humor, all qualities regrettably becoming vanishingly rare in public life. David was also a cherished member of the Columbia community for more than two decades. He convened timely and meaningful public discussions, taught students in the classical method of the tutorial, and brightened our ceremonies and official functions with his ever-charming personal warmth and dapper self-presentation.

"David was a steadfast leader for social justice, in detail and as a symbol. And, for me, he was a trusted and endlessly supportive advisor and friend. At this moment, I cannot help but remember how (as on so many occasions) he stood with me at a raucous public hearing before Community Board 9 voted on the Manhattanville campus. Then, as now, I felt stronger for his presence. Jean, who had a special bond with David, joins me in expressing the sense of irreplaceable loss.”

Mayor David Dinkins, Amsterdam News Publisher Bill Tatum and President Nelson Mandela in New York, June 1990

Mayor David Dinkins, Amsterdam News Publisher Bill Tatum and President Nelson Mandela in New York, June 1990

“Dinkins often attended events at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine and warmly supported our efforts since our inception in 2007,” said Dr. Alan Kadish, president of Touro College and University System. “He spoke often of what he called New York’s ‘gorgeous mosaic’ of racial, ethnic and religious diversity, as he worked for economic equality and education for people of color. Touro proudly aligns itself with these goals as we recognize the passing of the former mayor, whose career helped to break the race barrier.”

The response to Dinkins’ passing resonated across the nation, and the comments from Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League is typical.

“He took office during a time of great challenges in the city – high crime, economic recession and racial unrest,” Morial noted. “While these conditions often steer mayors to make decisions that further marginalize and victimize vulnerable communities. But Mayor Dinkins was able to resist these pressures in some important ways. Homelessness fell to a 20-year low during his administration. He rebuilt more of the city’s dilapidated buildings, in its poorest neighborhoods, in his single term than his predecessor did in two. He was a pioneer of community policing, even using the subtitle ‘Cops and Kids’ for his ‘Safe Streets, Safe City’ program that triggered a historic drop in violent crime.

“As a teenager barred from using his school’s pool and a young Marine turned away from a public bus in the South, he brought to his public a deep understanding of the legacy of racism,” Morial continued. “He will be remembered for his compassion, his gentle demeanor, and his dignity. Our deepest sympathy is with his children, David Jr. and Donna, and his grandchildren.”

Closer to home Dinkins was held in great esteem by One Hundred Black Men of New York (OHBM) that extended its deepest condolences to the family and friends of the Honorable David N. Dinkins. “In 1963, he and four distinguished men founded the OHBM to bring together leaders to advocate for improvement in the Black community,” the group wrote. “We were blessed to have Mayor Dinkins as an active member, including serving as co-chair of the One Hundred Black Men Annual Gala. 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. We will honor Mayor Dinkins's legacy at our annual Founders' Day and Pinning Ceremony event on the evening of Thursday, December 10th.”

“He was beloved and highly respected, and this is how I will remember his passage among us,” said author and educator Dr. Rae Alexander Minter.

We anticipate a deluge of warm regards and will do our best to honor them in the coming days as we await the funeral arrangements. Also, we should note that Rudy Giuliani has offered his condolences, and we recommend A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic, his memoir with Peter Knobler for additional information on this life well-lived and as he said on the passing of Nelson Mandela, “He departed us, paid in full. Let him not look down and find any of us in arrears,” we extend to him.

Linda Hamilton noted “David N. Dinkins transitioned peacefully from this life, at home on November 23, 2020. A memorial service will be held sometime after the covid crisis ends. He was predeceased by his beloved bride, Joyce B. Dinkins. He is survived by his children, David N Dinkins, Jr, and Donna Dinkins Hoggard; daughter-in-law, Paula Bormes, son-in-law, Jay Hoggard; grandchildren Jamal Hoggard, and Kalila Hoggard Anderson; grandson-in-law, Francois Anderson; sister, Joyce Dinkins Belton; numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, god children, and a vast number of beloved friends.”

David N. Dinkins, New York City’s first African American mayor, often referred to the people in his hometown as the “gorgeous mosaic,” his wife as his “beautiful bride,” and men he only vaguely remembered as “buddy.” He governed with the same easygoing, graceful manner––a kind of laid-back charm that was often mistaken for diffidence or lack of assertiveness. All of these factors, as well as some far less kind, will be invoked as we remember him. Dinkins, 93, died Monday, Nov. 23, at his upper-eastside home in Manhattan.

His death was confirmed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who began his association with Dinkins as a volunteer in the 1989 mayoral campaign and then worked as an aide to him for four years. “He was a good man with a good heart,” the mayor said Tuesday morning on WCBS 880. “We miss him already. This is a guy who just, for so many of us…he was a person who put us on the path to public service and showed us the right way to do it.”

Years before attaining the mayoral office, Dinkins labored, almost anonymously, in the political vineyards, where he was mentored by J. Raymond Jones, the legendary “Harlem Fox,” and later won a state assembly seat in 1965. Meanwhile, he became a member of the so-called Gang of Four, joining the late Percy E. Sutton, Basil Paterson and the surviving member, former Rep. Charles B. Rangel. No longer in office, Dinkins was president of the Board of Elections in 1972-73, where he increased the size of the voter rolls. When Mayor Abraham Beame nominated him to be the city’s first Black deputy mayor, he withdrew after admitting he had not filed income tax returns from 1969 to 1972. “He contended that he thought he had paid everything,” Wilbur Rich wrote in his book “David Dinkins and New York City Politics.”

Two years later, Beame appointed Dinkins to city clerk, another patronage job, Rich noted and a post he would hold for 10 years. In 1977 and again in 1981 he was defeated in bids for Manhattan borough president before winning it in 1985. It was in this capacity that he began to renew a tarnished reputation with his concern for the homeless, and those afflicted with AIDS.

Born David Norman Dinkins in Trenton, New Jersey July 10, 1927, he was the son of William Harvey Dinkins, Jr., a native of Virginia. When his parents separated and later divorced, Dinkins, with his mother and sister, Joyce, moved to Harlem. But he and his sister subsequently moved to Trenton with their father and their stepmother, Lottie Hartgell. Dinkins attended Trenton Central High School where he was a good student, particularly in Latin. After graduation in 1945, there was a brief stint in the Army before transferring to the Marines. He was discharged a year later and with the assistance of the GI Bill of Rights he enrolled at Howard University, majoring in mathematics and graduating with honors in 1950.

It was at Howard that he met Joyce Burrows, his “bride” (she died Oct. 11 at age 89); they were married in 1953 and had two children, David, Jr. and Donna Dinkins Hoggard, whose husband Jay Hoggard is a noted jazz vibist. Joyce’s father, Daniel Burrows, was an insurance and real estate broker with important political connections. He, along with the Harlem Fox, would play decisive roles in Dinkins’ political education and development.

As Manhattan borough president, Dinkins was the ranking African American politician in the city, and when the Tawana Brawley incident captured the media he realized that he would have to be very cautious about his response––particularly to the Black community––about the allegations of rape. Playing his cards close to the vest, Dinkins kept a political balance between Gov. Mario Cuomo and the Rev. Al Sharpton, summing up his concerns in a letter to The New York Times editor stating that “I must work on my own timetable, not one dictated by news deadlines and headlines.” He had cleverly steered clear of hurting his chance for a mayoral bid, though he had told the press he had no great desire to be the city’s mayor.

But like the editor of this paper, Wilbert Tatum, something had to be done to get Ed Koch out of office. The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s relative success in his 1988 presidential run and Herman “Denny” Farrell’s failure in 1985 cropped up with Dinkins’ name being bandied about for a mayoral bid. He launched his campaign in the heat of racial strife in the city—the Central Park jogger incident and the murder of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst.

Having assembled a confederation of labor unions, civic groups and a collection of minorities, Dinkins had a decisive headwind into the Democratic Party primaries, much of it attributable to the late Bill Lynch, “the rumpled genius,” who served as his campaign manager. He soundly trounced Koch and narrowly edged Rudy Giuliani, the Republican Party candidate.

There was a celebration in the Black community that presaged the one that erupted in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama.

It’s an understatement to say that Dinkins’ four years were tumultuous, and he did his best to apply a balm to ease tensions, heal wounds, and bring about the general goodwill that was so much part of his genial demeanor. But he assumed office with insurmountable obstacles, to say nothing of a budget shortfall, an often hostile white media and police department. If there were no dramatic accomplishments, there were also no disastrous consequences; there were a few highlights in housing, education improvements, and a carefully attended Times Square. Things began to unravel for him after the Crown Heights crisis, but there are other facets about his legacy worth recalling.

“Dinkins often attended events at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine and warmly supported our efforts since our inception in 2007,” said Dr. Alan Kadish, president of Touro College and University System. “He spoke often of what he called New York’s ‘gorgeous mosaic’ of racial, ethnic and religious diversity, as he worked for economic equality and education for people of color. Touro proudly aligns itself with these goals as we recognize the passing of the former mayor, whose career helped to break the race barrier.”

The response to Dinkins’ passing resonated across the nation, and the comments from Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League is typical.

“He took office during a time of great challenges in the city––high crime, economic recession and racial unrest,” Morial noted. “While these conditions often steer mayors to make decisions that further marginalize and victimize vulnerable communities. But Mayor Dinkins was able to resist these pressures in some important ways. Homelessness fell to a 20-year low during his administration. He rebuilt more of the city’s dilapidated buildings, in its poorest neighborhoods, in his single term than his predecessor did in two. He was a pioneer of community policing, even using the subtitle ‘Cops and Kids’ for his ‘Safe Streets, Safe City’ program that triggered a historic drop in violent crime.

“As a teenager barred from using his school’s pool and a young Marine turned away from a public bus in the South, he brought to his public a deep understanding of the legacy of racism,” Morial continued. “He will be remembered for his compassion, his gentle demeanor, and his dignity. Our deepest sympathy is with his children, David Jr. and Donna, and his grandchildren.”

Closer to home, Dinkins was held in great esteem by One Hundred Black Men of New York (OHBM) that extended its deepest condolences to the family and friends of the Honorable David N. Dinkins. “In 1963, he and four distinguished men founded the OHBM to bring together leaders to advocate for improvement in the Black community,” the group wrote. “We were blessed to have Mayor Dinkins as an active member, including serving as co-chair of the One Hundred Black Men Annual Gala. 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. We will honor Mayor Dinkins’s legacy at our annual Founders’ Day and Pinning Ceremony event on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 10th.”

“He was beloved and highly respected, and this is how I will remember his passage among us,” said author and educator Dr. Rae Alexander Minter.

We anticipate a deluge of warm regards and will do our best to honor them in the coming days as we await the funeral arrangements. Also, we should note that Rudy Giuliani has offered his condolences.

We recommend “A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic,” his memoir with Peter Knobler for additional information on this life well-lived. And as David Dinkins himself said on the passing of Nelson Mandela, “He departed us, paid in full. Let him not look down and find any of us in arrears,”––we extend it to him.

Linda Hamilton concluded, “The Dinkins family thanks everyone for their comforting thoughts, prayers, and expressions of sympathy. In lieu of flowers, contributions/donations can be made to:

The Howard University Scholarship Fund

The Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture

The Montford Point Marine Association

The Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program

New York Junior Tennis and Learning.”