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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Honoring Dinkins, de Blasio defends his mentor's mayoralty

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, left,

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, left, current Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Chirlane McCray smile at the audience during a ceremony to rename the Manhattan Municipal Building to the David N. Dinkins Building, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015. Credit: AP / Mary Altaffer

Mayor Bill de Blasio clearly wants the reputation of ex-Mayor David N. Dinkins gut-renovated -- or at least kept up, like the landmark Municipal Building now named for the 88-year-old Harlem Democrat.

"The history still doesn't accurately identify what this mayor did for the city," de Blasio told guests at a renaming ceremony Thursday. "It just doesn't. It's something we need to speak to in our public discourse."

"This is a mayor who often felt the slings and arrows -- many, many of them quite unfair, I might add."

De Blasio, the first Democratic mayor since Dinkins left office nearly 22 years ago, met Chirlane McCray, now his wife, while both worked for the city's 106th mayor.

The event for the 40-story structure on Centre Street became as personal as politics gets. De Blasio credited Dinkins with, during a single term, huge police hiring, new after-school programs, expansion of library service, construction of the National Tennis Center and other accomplishments he deems underrated.

Dinkins lost a bid for re-election amid famously violent disturbances and economic troubles. For the next eight years, official City Hall pronouncements about Dinkins' leadership consisted mainly of sour critiques from Republican Rudy Giuliani, who'd unseated him. A rhetorical thaw began under nominally Republican Michael Bloomberg.

Planning Commission chairman Carl Weisbrod further symbolized the Dinkins-de Blasio connection. As head of the Economic Development Corp. under Dinkins, he said, in introducing de Blasio yesterday: "Without further ado -- so he can introduce my former boss and his former boss -- here's my current boss . . . "

McCray, who had been a Dinkins speechwriter, even choked up for a few moments during her own tribute to Dinkins from the makeshift rostrum. She'd just said: "His joy in lifting up all New Yorkers was contagious and I was so proud to work for him."

But the daily life of the Dinkins Municipal Building, completed in 1914, is much less about spiritual uplift than the daytime bustle of mundane governmental transactions. It houses such unsexy offices as the city comptroller, public advocate, Manhattan borough president and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

Dinkins served in the Municipal Building as city clerk for 10 years and then as borough president for four.

After walking slowly to the rostrum, Dinkins thanked the de Blasios in a full-length address and said: "Mayors come and mayors go, and the city must and will endure. . . . My heart is full today and the memories of a lifetime happily race through my mind."

Former aide Peter Johnson Jr. called the "solid, experienced building . . . the best choice" for honoring Dinkins, since it "represents the past, the future, and service."

"The place where things are done, named for a mayor who got things done," added Assemb. Denny Farrell (D-Manhattan), a Dinkins ally from long ago.

Retiring Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan), 85, who was scheduled to be on the program but showed up afterward, chatted with guests who remained behind. During his speech Dinkins had remembered close colleagues now deceased, then mentioned Rangel, "who still lives and may get here before this is over."


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