There Were Once a Time When New York Did Not Have Republican Mayors
David N. Dinkins with Peter Knobler. A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic. New York: Public Affairs, 2013.
David Dinkins joined the Marines and went to college on the G.I. Bill.
Dinkins became a lawyer. To make himself known, in order to get clients, he joined the George Washington Carver Democratic Club which was influential in Harlem.
Dinklins believed the political “reformers then were part of a power group led by whites who worked against established Black leaders. He does believe that reform leader Percy Sutton became an effective leader. He also saw the rise of reform leader Charles Rangle and believes he too was a good leader.
One of the important jobs of political organizations is to get enough qualified signatures on petitions to get candidates listed on primary ballots. Dinkins mentions “stories” of candidates’ petitions ‘accidentally’ destroyed by political operatives.
In 1966, the courts allowed the State Assembly to expand from 150 to 165 Assembly seats for one election. This was in response to Assembly leadership attempting to comply with previous court orders. This was done even though the state Constitution sets the numbers of Assembly members at 150.
Raymond Jones asked Dinkins o run for a newly created State Assembly seat. He ran against Frank Leichter, a candidate supported b notable liberal U.S. Rep. William Fitz Ryan. Dr. Kenneth Clark, a noted social activist, supported Dinkins and served as his Committee Chairman. Dinkins won the race.
As an Assembly member, Dinkins learned the Assembly Speaker and his staff were in charge. The Assembly Speaker chose which bills were to receive an Assembly vote. Nothing was passed without the Speaker’s approval. The Speaker also chose all the committee chairs and hired the Assembly staff.
The legislative process was complex and often the Assembly members did not know what was happening. Dinkins notes “we would frequently read the papers the next day to find out what we had done the days before in session.”
Before Dinkins was elected to the Assembly there had been a deadlocked race for Speaker between Anthony Travia and Stanley Steingut. Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller broke the deadlock by getting some Republican Assembly members to vote for Travia.
There were then enough members to form a New York State Black and Puerto Rican Caucus in the legislature.
Black elected officials in New York began regularly meeting with each other. Percy Sutton and Shirley Chisholm were among their leaders. Sutton advised the group to choose their battles to fight declaring “you can’t dance every set.”
The Assembly reverted to 150 members. Dinkins lost his district. He ran for and was elected a Delegate to the 1967 New York State Constitutional Convention.
In 1972, Dinkins was named to the Board of Elections, a position he felt was unconstitutionally structured as it consisted of two Democrats and two Republicans yet had no representatives from New York’s other political parties. Still, Dinkins realized the need for the office to operate efficiently.
Dinkins ran for District Leader and lost. He noted his opponent had supporters using a siding level on election machines to obtain votes. Dinkins failed to put enough election poll watchers monitoring for such things. This was a lesson he learned and a mistake he would not repeat.
When Abe Beame was elected Mayor, Dinkins was offered a newly created position of Deputy Mayor for Planning. Dinkins admitted he owed back taxes. He had filed all the paperwork and paid what he owed with penalties and interest. Yet the negative press caused Beame to ask Dkinkins to withdraw his name, and he did.
Dinkins later told Beame he was interested in the vacancy of City Clerk. Dinkins got the job. He served for ten years.
Dinkins ran for Manhattan Borough President. Percy Sutton was running for Mayor. While Charles Rangle endorsed Dinkins, some other African American leaders feared having too many Blacks on the Democratic Party ticket would hurt Sutton’s chances and they did not help Dinkins.
Dinkins was elected Manhattan Borough President in his third try. He defeated Jerry Nadler.
Dinkins believed Mayor Ed Koch was more concerned with building new high income housing than with the problem of homelessness. Dinkins fought for programs for low income and homeless residents, for child care assistance, life training, etc.
Koch sought a third term as Mayor, Dinkins defeated him.
Dinkins rented his campaign office for Mayor from Local 1199 of the Drug, Hospital, and Heatlh Care Employees Union. This gave him access to union volunteers and the ability to print campaign materials at low costs. Other unions joined in to support Dinkins.
Dinkins received 96^ of the African American vote (which was 26% of the total vote). 50% of the Hispanic vote, and 27% of the white vote. He won the primary with 51% and thus did not need to have a runoff primary as required in New York law should no primary candidate receive 40% of the vote.
The Dinkins campaign paid radical organizer Sonny Carson $9,500 for field work in a politically underserved Black neighborhood. The Republican nominee for mayor, Rudy Giuliani, found Carson had made anti-Semitic remarks two decades earlier. Carson made things worse for Dinkins by declaring “I’m ant-white. Don’t limit my “anti” to just one group of people.” The Dinkins campaign severed ties with Carson yet Giuliani and the press kept the story alive.
Giuliani also raised Dinkins’s previous failure to pay taxes to make Dinkins appears unable to handle city finances.
Giuliani also tied Dinkins’s previous support of Jesse Jackson for President to Jackson’s support of a Palestinina state and his comment that New York was “Humietown” to draw Jewish votes away from Dinkins.
The Newsweek Gallup Poll predicted Dinkins would win by 51% to 36%. Dinkins won by two percentage points. He believes racism explains a lot of the discrepancy between the polls and the election results as many whites claimed they were undecided because they did not wish to disclose they were not going to vote for a candidate of color.
The Dinkins Administration discovered what they thought was a $75 million budget deficit they were inheriting was in fact a $750 million budget deficit.
As Mayor, Dinkins stopped housing homeless in blighted hotels. The city used more hospital shelters, housing that had been foreclosed for tax non-payments, and residences operated by social service organizations.
Dinkins created a Department of Homeless Services. It reached out to non-profit groups to provide assistance to drug dependents, job skills training, etc. for homeless people.
There were about 28,000 homeless when Ed Koch was Mayor Homelessness fluctuated between 17,000 and 24,000 while Dinkins was Mayor. Under Bloomberg, homelessness increased ti about 35,000 to 40,000.
Dinkins implemented the largest privatized municipal health care program. 150,000 received coverage. Mayor Giuliani retained and expanded this program.
Dinkins notes crime decreased in numbers and rate when he was Mayor more than it did for any previous Mayor. He accomplished this by hiring more police officers than ever done so before and he did so during budget deficits. An analytical study, the first in a quarter century, was conducted on public officer allocations.
New York citizens became divided on issues concerning alleged police brutality. Witnessed in several instances claimed police officers overreacted. Dinkins supported citizens police review, to which many police strongly objected. Giuliani stood firmly in support of the police when he ran against Dinkins.
As Mayor, Dinkins created community policing, increased New York police by 6,000 with a 500% increase in officers on the beat, began agreement with Walt Disney Co, to improve Times Square, approved spending $2 billion on housing, created literacy programs, enacted tougher gun laws, began the first needle exchange program, created the largest municipal registry, and created the Increate the Peace Volunteer Corps.
Dinkins found his popularity had decreased, particularly among Jewish voters. White voters were less supportive of Dinkins believing he favored the African American communities while African American voters felt he hadn’t done enough for them. Dinkins lost to Giuliani by two percentage points He blames his loss on racism, “plain and simple.”