Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, Dead, at 93

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, Dead, at 93

By Yehudit Garmaise

  David Dinkins, who was New York City’s first and only African-American mayor, passed away last night.

   Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, who was 93, has died tonight of natural causes, in his Upper East Side home, just a month after his wife Joyce passed away.

   Dinkins, who was elected in 1989, was the city’s first and only African-American mayor.  He defeated former New York City Mayor Ed Koch in the 1989 mayoral primary and then went on to beat Republican Rudy Giuliani, by the narrowest electoral margin in New York City history: 47,000 votes.

  On Twitter, former Mayor Giuliani wrote, “I extend my 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.”

   Born in Trenton, N.J., Dinkins served in the Marines in the Korean War and briefly practiced law in New York City before he launched his career in politics, first, as a district leader, and then, in 1966, as a Harlem state Assemblyman.   

   Dinkins went on to serve as president of the Board of Elections and city clerk before serving as Manhattan Borough President in 1985, before running for mayor.

  Although, during his one term as mayor from 1990 to 1993, Dinkins had many times called the city “a beautiful mosaic,” and had said, "We are all foot soldiers on the march to freedom," many feel that Dinkins failure to stop the Crown Heights riots that took place from Aug. 19 to 21, 1991, greatly contributed to his defeat in the 1993 mayoral election, which was won by Giuliani, who famously called the riots, “a pogrom” on July 1, 1993, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

   "You can use whatever word you want, but in fact for three days people were beaten up, people were sent to the hospital because they were Jewish,” Giuliani said. “There's no question that not enough was done about it by the city of New York. One definition of pogrom is violence where the state doesn't do enough to prevent it."

   Although Dinkins later denied it, the Jewish community felt that Dinkins had failed to exercise his responsibility to immediately order the police to contain the riots and to better protect the Jewish residents of Crown Heights. 

  The riot began after a tragic car accident occurred when Yosef Lifsh, who was 22, was driving as part of a three-car motorcade of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Scheerson. Lifsch had fallen behind in the procession, and either raced through yellow light or ran a red light, which he thought he could do because the motorcade had a police escort.

   Tragically, however, Lifsh lost control of his car after striking another car and veered onto the sidewalk, knocking down a 600-pound stone building pillar, which horrifically, resulted in the instant death of seven-year old Gavin Cato and the severe juries of his seven-year old cousin, Angela Cato.

   After the collision, Lifsh said that the first thing he did was to try to lift the car to help the two children beneath it, although he was immediately beaten by three or four men.

  Two police officers and a workers on a city ambulance who had arrived on the scene all had told Hatzolah volunteers to remove Lifsh for his own safety, an action that members of the African-American community later said that they felt was just one example of the ways in which Jews in Crown Heights were given preferential treatment by police and government resources.

   At this point, 250 African-American teenagers began shouting, vandalizing cars, and throwing rocks and bottles, and three days of rioting and violence ensued, tragically resulting in the murder of Australian yeshiva student Yankel Rosenbaum, a”h, who was in Crown Heights conducting research for his doctorate at the University of Melbourne.

    When 200 police officers were overwhelmed and had to retreat for their own safety, on August 22, 1991, more than 1,800 police officers arrived to stop the attacks on people and property, which resulted in the injuries of 28 civilians, 152 police officers, 225 cases of robbery and burglary, seven stores being looted and burned, and 27 cars destroyed.

    In addition, two weeks after the riots, a group of African-American men killed a non-Jewish Italian man whom they reportedly had mistaken as Jewish because he had a white beard and was wearing a dark suit.

   In total, during the three days police made 139 arrests.

  Before the riots, Dinkins had visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who had said to the then-mayor, “May all the nationalities living in New York live side-by-side in peace and harmony. 

    “You must emphasize New Yorkers’ similarities rather than their differences. Every one of them should support their neighbor, especially in matters of charity.”

   In 1991, after the Crown Height riots, on a Sunday afternoon, Dinkins again visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe who was giving out his customary blessings and dollars to then be given for tzadakah. The Rebbe said to Dinkins, "[We are] one side, one people, united by the management of New York City."

Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office.

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