Bill Lynch, a political consultant nonpareil

Herb Boyd | 7/1/2021, midnight
The current mayoral race and the strategies put forth by the numerous candidates reminded me of the late Bill Lynch.
Bill Lynch in January, 2007 Photo by Karl Crutchfield

The current mayoral race and the strategies put forth by the numerous candidates reminded me of the late Bill Lynch. He came to mind also after seeing his daughter, Stacy, who is seeking a council seat in the Seventh District. Any one of the mayoral candidates, as well as his daughter, would have benefited from his wise counsel, much in the manner he advised successful office seekers like David Dinkins, the city’s first African American mayor.

Lynch, who died on Aug. 9, 2013 at 72, was a quintessential Harlemite, though he was born in 1941 in Long Island and arrived in the fabled community in the 1960s. A generation later, he was a first-call political consultant, offering advice to local and national office seekers, including presidential candidates. Dubbed the “Rumpled Genius” because of his lack of concern for dress, Lynch gained notice when he helped orchestrate Diane Lacey Winley victory in the race for district leader in Central Harlem and the Upper Westside in 1975. This was after working tirelessly in the trenches of organized labor, particularly his tenure as director of legislation and political action for DC 1701 of AFSCME.

In 1976, he was once again Winley’s campaign manager in her quest for the New York State Assembly but she failed in this bid, though it gave Lynch additional cache in the realm of political consultancy. Lynch’s connections and associations in labor and politics earned him citywide recognition, and this enhanced his native abilities and insight on coalition building. These elements were fodder to his understanding on how to run a campaign, all of which he managed almost invisibly behind the scenes. Even so, his presence did not go unattended by several presidential hopefuls, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Walter Mondale. With the Jackson campaigns in 1984 and 1988 he was a key coordinator.

When David Paterson came calling on his services in 1985 in his bid for the New York State Senate, Lynch deftly managed his victory. Over the next five years he began his allegiance to David Dinkins, then Manhattan borough president, as his chief of staff. And the next endeavor was inevitable when his boss tossed his hat into the ring for Gracie Mansion. Guiding Dinkins campaign was Lynch’s coup de grace, one that sealed his legacy as a visionary political consultant. As was his wont, Lynch forged a broad multiethnic, multicultural coalition that gave rise to Dinkins’ labeling the city the “gorgeous mosaic,” and led to his victory over the incumbent Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani, his Republican adversary in the general election.

After Dinkins assumed office, he named Lynch as his deputy mayor of intergovernmental relations, but in a broader sense Lynch was much more than a mere bureaucratic functionary. The two men were joined at the spine, rarely more than a heartbeat from an issue or situation they needed their joint administration. And they were soon up to their neck with fiscal problems, high crime rates, and most disturbingly social unrest. Chief among the tensions facing the administration was policing and controlling the racial confrontations between Black and Jews—the Crown Heights being the tipping point. Lynch caught flak from Gov. Cuomo in 1993 when he asserted that Lynch and two others in the Dinkins administration withheld information from the mayor about the Crown Heights incident, accusations that were denied by Lynch.

Some of the difficulties were assuaged by Lynch’s diplomatic skills, his way of cooling advising Dinkins and coaxing him toward racial harmony. He was pivotal, too, in getting the 1992 Democratic National Convention to the city and organizing a tribute to the visiting Nelson Mandela. But his growing dissatisfaction gradually reached a point that made it expedient for him to resign or it may have been a request to join Bill Clinton in his bid for the White House. Whatever the case, he was soon in Clinton’s camp as New York’s campaign director. When Dinkins sought re-election in 1993, Lynch was again a chief consultant but the challenges the team faced were too great to overcome and Giuliani won.

No longer interested in having a position in government, Lynch continued his consultancy, handling a number of political aspirants, including Charles Rangel, Mario Cuomo, Carl McCall, Fernando Ferrer, and Hillary Clinton. Other clients were Nielsen Media Research and Columbia University. Under the banner of Bill Lynch Associates, he advised Nelson Mandela during South Africa’s transition from apartheid and in 1997 he was named co-chair of the Democratic National Committee. Such would be his activities until his death in 2013.

“Bill Lynch was a transcendent soul,” declared the Rev. Michael Waldron in his eulogy of Lynch. “He was a mighty river pouring into others…so self-effacing that you were embarrassed to be arrogant.” 

The Rev. Al Sharpton elaborated on Lynch’s legacy, noting that “without Bill Lynch, none of us would be here. He was the glue that held us together. He taught us how to get things done.”

Lynch’s son, Bill, III, said, “If I can be half the father he was to me, I’ll be all right.”