With his single term wedged between the longer tenures of two much more boisterous and impactful mayors, it can be easy to dismiss David Dinkins’ service to New York City. But we should not.
Dinkins, who died on Monday at 93, brought a grace and dignity to the office that on their own are enough to remember him well and respect him. Certainly none of his successors have had anything approaching his warm yet statesmanlike manner.
He is not seen as the most successful mayor we’ve had, but he came into office at a time of great challenges, most notably skyrocketing crime, much of it driven by the crack epidemic. And though Rudy Giuliani rightly gets the lion’s share of credit for turning that around, the first progress was actually made under Dinkins. His joining with City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. of Queens to get 6,000 more cops hired was absolutely vital in reversing a trend that long predated him.
He also left Queens a great legacy by signing a 99-year lease with the United States Tennis Association for its space in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, keeping the US Open in the borough.
And of course Dinkins was a trailblazer as the city’s first, and so far only, black mayor, cementing one tile in his “gorgeous mosaic” of peoples in a place it never had been before.
He made mistakes, the worst of them not acting fast enough to end hate-driven rioting in Brooklyn. The mayoralty, which he only sought reluctantly, may not have been the best match for him. But he earned and retains our respect.