Dinkins, David

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Dinkins, David

July 10, 1927

Born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey, politician David Norman Dinkins served in the Marine Corps during World War II. In 1950 he graduated from Howard University and later entered Brooklyn Law School, where he received a degree in 1956. From 1956 through 1975 Dinkins worked as an associate and partner in a law firm.

In the early 1960s Dinkins joined Harlem's George Washington Carver Democratic Club, then headed by the powerful city councilman J. Raymond Jones. He soon took an active interest in local politics and was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1965 and as a New York State Democratic Party district leader in 1967. He lost his assembly seat as a result of redistricting after only one term but continued his political career as Harlem's district leader. In 1972 Dinkins became the first African-American president of the Board of Elections, but he resigned a year later in protest when the department failed to enact registration reforms.

In 1973 Dinkins was appointed deputy mayor for planning and development under newly elected Mayor Abraham Beame. His attempt to become New York City's first black deputy mayor was ended when he disclosed that he failed to pay income taxes for the four previous years. He withdrew his nomination and paid heavy fines, but he continued his career despite this setback. In 1975 he was named city clerk, a position he would hold for ten years. He twice ran for Manhattan borough president, in 1977 and 1981, losing both times to Andrew Stein. Dinkins finally won the office in 1985 and served for one term.

In 1989 Dinkins ran for mayor against incumbent Edward I. Koch. Dinkins presented himself as a civil alternative to the acrimonious Koch and as someone who could better handle the city's racial problems, which he accused the three-term mayor of exacerbating. He defeated Koch in the Democratic primary and in the election defeated Republican Rudolph Giuliani by a slim margin, thereby becoming the first African-American mayor in New York City's history. His tenure as mayor had its share of budgetary and political problems. He earned the reputation of a cautious and careful administrator who proved reasonably adept in negotiating the treacherous complexities of New York City's racial and ethnic politics, but he was widely criticized as ineffective and biased in his handling of black boycotts of Korean-American shop owners in 1992 and in his response to the Crown Heights riot in 1993. Following his narrow defeat for reelection by Rudolph Giuliani in 1993, Dinkins began teaching at Columbia University and hosted a weekly public affairs radio program.

A former tennis player, Dinkins was inducted into the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Eastern Section Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993. Serving a fourth consecutive term as a Director at Large of the USTA in 2005, Dinkins continued teaching as Professor in the Practice of Public Affairs at Columbia University.

See also Mayors; Politics in the United States; Tennis


"David N. Dinkins." In Notable Black American Men. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1998.

Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography Yearbook 1990. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1990.

james bradley (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005