Former Mayor David Dinkins was instrumental in securing the National Tennis Center and the US Open as fixtures in Queens.
And it was there that Dinkins attended a meet-and-greet last Friday prior to a book signing of his new memoir.
Now 86, he chatted with more than 60 people at a reception to promote “A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic” written with Peter Knobler.
Dinkins, the first and only black mayor in the city’s history, was engaging, witty and candid about his term in office from 1990 to 1993.
“I decided to write it because when some people have written about going back to ‘the Dinkins Era’, they get the facts wrong,” he told the crowd.
Dinkins beat three-term Mayor Ed Koch in the 1989 primary, and defeated Republican Rudy Giuliani in their first go-around.
“I was one of several people who grouped together and supported Ed Koch in a primary against Mario Cuomo in 1977,” Dinkins said. “But after about two years I became disappointed with him.”
In the interim, the former state assemblyman became Manhattan borough president on his third try.
“I wasn’t like John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton, who if you asked what they wanted to be when they were boys they said ‘President,’” Dinkins said. “I was happy being Manhattan borough president.”
But he also was in the room in 1989 when a group of Democratic power brokers decided that Koch had to go.
“I hate to use the term ‘drafted,’ but I agreed to run,” he said.
In an interview following his talk, Dinkins said he did not feel any extra pressure, either from himself or from without, or any obligation to run simply because he was a popular black politician with a high profile.
“But I did want to win, because I had worked so hard to become borough president, and if I lost, I had nothing,” he said.
Dinkins said the high crime for which he often gets blamed actually started declining on his watch with the Safe Streets policing program.
He acknowledged that if he had them to do over again, he would have dealt differently with the Korean grocery boycott of 1990 and the Crown Heights riots of 1991.
During the latter, Brooklyn resident Yankel Rosenbaum was murdered by a mob in response to the death of Gavin Cato, an African-American youth who was hit by a car.
He said he would have ordered a change of police tactics sooner in Crown Heights. As for the grocer boycott, “there were people who did not want that to end.”
A man who became a tennis fan in his 40s, Dinkins dismisses criticism from those like Giuliani who questioned the 99-year deal his administration reached for the Tennis Center and the US Open.
“We were very concerned about losing the US Open to the Meadowlands or Atlanta,” he said. “This year, the US Open brought in more than $700 million to the city ... And when you get off the train, you come down in here through something called ‘Dinkins Circle.’ I am very proud of that.”