David N. Dinkins ’56, First Black Mayor of New York and Brooklyn Law School Icon, Dies at 93
Mayor David N. Dinkins ’56, the 106th Mayor of New York City, died November 23 at age 93. Born in Trenton, New Jersey, on July 10, 1927, Dinkins served as the city’s first Black mayor from 1990 to 1993. While leading the city during a time of unrest and upheaval, he also introduced many of the initiatives and programs that led to the city’s revitalization in the 1990s and beyond.
As Mayor, Dinkins instituted “Safe Streets, Safe City: Cops and Kids,” a comprehensive plan to reduce crime and expand opportunities for the children of New York. He was also responsible for selecting the most diverse range of agency leaders in history, including two women deputy mayors, the city’s first Puerto Rican fire commissioner, and a Black police commissioner. Dinkins established numerous widely heralded cultural staples such as Fashion Week, Restaurant Week, and Broadway on Broadway. His administration initiated the revitalization of Times Square and secured an unprecedented deal to keep the U.S. Open Tennis Championships in New York for the next 99 years. He reflected on his life and mayoralty in his 2013 memoir A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic.
“David N. Dinkins was an extraordinary public servant who dedicated his career to the advancement of New York City and its communities,” said Dean Michael T. Cahill. “As New York City’s first Black mayor, and as an active force for change for decades, he has left an indelible legacy on what he called the ‘gorgeous mosaic’ of the city he loved. He fully embodied Brooklyn Law School’s mission of promoting inclusion, opportunity for all, and service to others. We are proud to call him ours, and we are thankful for his service to our community over the years. We extend our deepest condolences to Mayor Dinkins’ family and friends.”
At the Law School, Dinkins was a long-time member of the Brooklyn Law School Alumni Association Board of Directors. He was honored as Alumnus of the Year in 1990, and he was named an Icon of Brooklyn Law School in 2015. Dinkins also was an active member of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA), which, in 2018, presented him with the inaugural David N. Dinkins Award.
“In 1953, Brooklyn was one of the few schools that would admit you if you had to work,” remembered Dinkins, who worked in his father-in-law’s store in Harlem while attending law school. “And it had the best record of any school in the nation of its graduates passing the bar the first time. I will forever be grateful for what Brooklyn Law School did for me.”
Dinkins began his public service career in 1966 as a member of the New York State Assembly. He was president of the New York City Board of Elections, and served as City Clerk for 10 years before his elections as President of the Borough of Manhattan in 1985 and 106th Mayor of the City of New York in 1989.
In his later years, Dinkins was Professor in the Practice of Public Affairs at the Columbia University School of International & Public Affairs. In 2003, the David N. Dinkins Professorship Chair in the Practice of Urban & Public Affairs was established at Columbia University.
Dinkins has received numerous awards and accolades throughout his career and was associated with a variety of civic and charitable organizations that assist children and young people. He served on the boards of the Association to Benefit Children, Children’s Health Fund, Coalition for the Homeless, The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, New York City Global Partners, and Posse Foundation. Dinkins was a founding member of the Black & Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus of New York State and The One Hundred Black Men. He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Advisory Board of the International African American Museum and on the steering committee of the Association for a Better New York and the New York Urban League’s Advisory Council. He was vice president of the United States Conference of Mayors, a Member-at-Large of the Black Leadership Forum, and chairman emeritus of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDs.
Dinkins graduated with honors from Howard University in 1950 and received an LL.B. from Brooklyn Law School in 1956. He was a recipient of The Congressional Gold Medal for his service as a Montford Point Marine in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.
In 2017, in an in-depth feature story in The New York Times, Dinkins reflected on his term as mayor of New York City and how he hoped it would be remembered. “I think we did overall a pretty good job,” he said. “When things went well, we didn’t always get the credit to which we were entitled, but if things did not go well, you’re the mayor, it’s your fault. Still the greatest job in the world.”
In January 2020, Errol Louis ’05 commemorated the 30-year anniversary of Dinkins’ inauguration as New York City’s first Black mayor for NY1 with a three-part podcast, The Making of a Mosaic.
Dinkins was predeceased by his wife, Joyce Burrows Dinkins, who died in October. He is survived by his two children, David Jr. and Donna Dinkins Hoggard; two grandchildren, Jamal Hoggard and Kalila Dinkins Hoggard; and his sister, Joyce Belton.
View Dinkins' speech at the Salute to Brooklyn Law School Icons Gala