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David Dinkins, New York City's first Black mayor, dies at 93

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins attends

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins attends New York Law School's CityLaw Breakfast series at their West Broadway campus on Dec. 16, 2016.  Credit: Jeff Bachner

David Dinkins, New York City’s first Black mayor, has died at 93.

Dinkins’ death, confirmed late Monday by a city government source, comes six weeks after the death of Dinkins’ wife of 67 years, Joyce.

"He just lost his wife," said former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, the longtime Harlem congressman who with Dinkins became part of the powerful "Gang of Four" political coalition that dominated Black politics, and New York politics as a whole, for decades.

"All I can say is that I lost a good friend, the city lost a great public servant, and America lost a real patriot, and he served us all well," said Rangel, his voice breaking as he recalled having spoken to Dinkins a day earlier.

Dinkins served from 1990 until 1993. He beat the three-term incumbent, Ed Koch, in the Democratic primary in 1989. But Dinkins served just one term in office, as the city went through high crime and racial strife during his tenure, problems that long predated his time in office.

"Known for his reserved public demeanor, Dinkins was sharply criticized for his handling of racial strife in Crown Heights, a boycott of Korean Grocers in Brooklyn and civil unrest in Washington Heights. Dinkins faced a $1.8 billion budget deficit when he entered office which grew to $2.2 billion by the time he left office. The economy remained sluggish throughout his term, preventing the enactment of much of his agenda," according to his biography on the city's website.

A state report about the Crown Heights riots was critical of Dinkins’ handling.

"The mayor, as the city’s chief executive, did not act in a timely and decisive manner in requiring the Police Department to meet its own stated objectives to protect the lives, safety and property of the residents of Crown Heights and to quickly restore peace and order to the community," the report said.

He was defeated in 1993 by Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, who ran promising more aggressive policing.

Still, Dinkins’ "Safe Streets, Safe City" program is credited by some with helping begin the city's long decline in crime. Under the program, the city was able to hire thousands more officers and the crime rate of the 1980s and early 1990s began to drop.

Speaking Tuesday to WCBS Newsradio 880’s Wayne Cabot, Mayor Bill de Blasio lamented that Dinkins didn’t get more credit, including for the "Safe Streets, Safe City" program.

"I hope now, Wayne, that his legacy will be examined more fairly, because he really is the guy that helped set this city on a path to safety," de Blasio said. "There’s so many things he did that he never got his due, and I hope now there’ll finally be that sort of fair assessment of all the good he did for us."

Earlier, in a tweet just after midnight Tuesday, Giuliani said he extends his "deepest condolences to the family of Mayor David Dinkins, and to the many New Yorkers who loved and supported him. He gave a great deal of his life in service to our great City. That service is respected and honored by all."

Dinkins’ ascent to the mayoralty — he was the city’s 106th mayor — began when he served as a district leader, then assemblyman and president of the Board of Elections, as well as city clerk and Manhattan borough president.

Born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1927, David Norman Dinkins graduated from Howard University with a mathematics degree, and later from Brooklyn Law School, according to his official mayoral biography. He served in the U.S. Marines in Korea, soon afterward marrying the former Joyce Burrows, a daughter of a Harlem assemblyman.

De Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, got their start in city government working in Dinkins’ City Hall. It’s also where the couple met.

In 2015, the city Municipal Building at 1 Centre St. — a block from City Hall — was renamed in Dinkins’ honor.

In a tweet Tuesday morning, de Blasio invoked the "gorgeous mosaic" phrase that Dinkins coined to describe a diverse city he sought to help heal from racial division.

"Chirlane and I are mourning a truly great man. David Dinkins simply set this city on a better path. He was my mentor, he was my friend, and his steadfast commitment to fight for that ‘gorgeous mosaic’ inspires me every single day. We’ll keep up his fight," de Blasio said.

In a news release Tuesday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said that Dinkins "led with grace and decency."

"As the first and only African American mayor of New York City, David Dinkins was not only an unparalleled leader, but a trailblazer who paved the path for a more equitable society," the statement said. "He was a mayor for all New Yorkers, and fought each and every day for the city he loved deeply."

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