Born: July 10, 1927
Birthplace: Trenton, NJ
Died: November 23, 2020
Zodiac Sign: Cancer
Career and Life
David Norman Dinkins was an American politician, lawyer, and author who served as the 106th Mayor of New York City from 1990 to 1993, becoming the first African American to hold the office.
Before entering politics, Dinkins was among the more than 20,000 Montford Point Marines, the first African-American U.S. Marines; he served from 1945 to 1946. He graduated cum laude from Howard University and received his law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1956. A longtime member of Harlem's Carver Democratic Club, Dinkins began his electoral career by serving in the New York State Assembly in 1966, eventually advancing to Manhattan borough president before becoming mayor. After leaving office, Dinkins joined the faculty of Columbia University while remaining active as an éminence grise in municipal politics.
Dinkins was born in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Sarah "Sally" Lucy and William Harvey Dinkins Jr. His mother was a domestic worker and his father a barber and real estate agent. He was raised by his father after his parents separated when he was six years old Dinkins moved to Harlem as a child before returning to Trenton. He attended Trenton Central High School, where he graduated in 1945.
Upon graduating, Dinkins attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps but was told that a racial quota had been filled. After traveling the Northeastern United States, he finally found a recruiting station that had not, in his words, "filled their quota for Negro Marines"; however, World War II was over before Dinkins finished boot camp. He served in the Marine Corps from July 1945 through August 1946, attaining the rank of private first class. Dinkins was among the Montford Point Marines who received the Congressional Gold Medal from the United States Senate and House of Representatives.
Dinkins graduated cum laude from Howard University with a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1950. He received his LL.B. from Brooklyn Law School in 1956.
While maintaining a private law practice from 1956 to 1975, Dinkins rose through the Democratic Party organization in Harlem, beginning at the Carver Democratic Club under the aegis of J. Raymond Jones. He became part of an influential group of African American politicians that included Denny Farrell, Percy Sutton, Basil Paterson, and Charles Rangel; the latter three together with Dinkins were known as the "Gang of Four". As an investor, Dinkins was one of fifty African American investors who helped Percy Sutton found Inner City Broadcasting Corporation in 1971.
Dinkins briefly represented the 78th District of the New York State Assembly in 1966. From 1972 to 1973, he was president of the New York City Board of Elections. He was nominated as a deputy mayor by Mayor Abraham D. Beame but was ultimately not appointed, instead serving as city clerk (characterized by Robert D. McFadden as a "patronage appointee who kept marriage licenses and municipal records") from 1975 to 1985. He was elected Manhattan borough president in 1985 on his third run for that office. On November 7, 1989, Dinkins was elected mayor of New York City, defeating three-term incumbent mayor Ed Koch and two others in the Democratic primary and Republican nominee Rudy Giuliani in the general election. During his campaign, Dinkins sought the blessing and endorsement of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Dinkins was elected in the wake of a corruption scandal that stemmed from the decline of longtime Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman and preeminent New York City political leader Meade Esposito's organized crime-influenced patronage network, ultimately precipitating the suicide of Queens borough president Donald Manes and a series of criminal convictions among the city's Democratic leadership. In March 1989, the New York City Board of Estimate (which served as the primary governing instrument of various patronage networks for decades, often superseding the mayoralty in influence) also was declared unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause by the Supreme Court of the United States; this prompted the empanelment of the New York City Charter Revision Commission, which abolished the Board of Estimate and assigned most of its responsibilities to an enlarged New York City Council via a successful referendum in November. Koch, the presumptive Democratic nominee, was politically damaged by his administration's ties to the Esposito network and his handling of racial issues, exemplified by his fealty to affluent interests in predominantly white areas of Manhattan. This enabled Dinkins to attenuate public perceptions of his previous patronage appointments and emerge as a formidable, reform-minded challenger to Koch. Additionally, the fact that Dinkins was African American helped him to avoid criticism that he was ignoring the black vote by campaigning to whites. While a large turnout of African American voters was important to his election, Dinkins campaigned throughout the city. Dinkins' campaign manager was political consultant William Lynch Jr., who became one of his first deputy mayors.
Dinkins married Joyce Burrows, the daughter of Harlem political eminence Daniel L. Burrows, in August 1953. They had two children, David Jr. and Donna. When Dinkins became mayor of New York City, Joyce retired from her position at the State Department of Taxation and Finance. The couple were members of the Church of the Intercession in New York City. Joyce died on October 11, 2020 at the age of 89.
Dinkins was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and Sigma Pi Phi ("the Boule"), the oldest collegiate and first professional Greek-letter fraternities, respectively, established for African Americans. He was raised as a Master Mason in King David Lodge No. 15, F. & A. M., PHA, located in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1952.
Dinkins was hospitalized in New York on October 31, 2013, for treatment of pneumonia. He was hospitalized again for pneumonia on February 19, 2016.
Dinkins guest starred as himself on April 13, 2018, in "Risk Management", the 19th episode of the 8th season of the CBS police procedural drama Blue Bloods.
On November 23, 2020, just over a month after the death of his wife, Joyce Dinkins, David Dinkins died from unspecified natural causes at his home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, at age 93.