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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

Remembering Mayor David Dinkins


The union mourns the death of former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, who passed at the age of 93 on Nov. 23, 2020, just over a month after the death his wife of 57 years, Joyce Burrows.

Mayor Dinkins devoted his life to public service. Elected in 1966 to serve briefly in the New York State Assembly, he later became an influential African American political leader in city politics and worked his way through the political system during the halcyon years of the 1970s and 80s, until he was elected as Manhattan Borough President in 1985.

In 1989, he made history by first defeating incumbent Mayor Ed Koch in the Democratic primary and then went on to become New York City’s first African American mayor.

Although defeated for re-election by Rudy Giuliani in a contentious race in 1993, Dinkins’ historic administration included laying the groundwork for the city’s economic recovery from the brutal financial problems that beset the city since the late 1960s by beginning initiatives to rehab housing in the devastated South Bronx, Harlem, and Brooklyn.

During a time of strife, Dinkins instituted community-based solutions, including police and education reforms, and began the process to reinvent Times Square as a major tourist attraction, a move that eventually provided millions in needed revenue to the city.

While Mayor Dinkins never received the proper credit for his decisive role in transforming what was then a city in decline into a city of the world, the legacy he left was a renaissance in tourism, sports, and entertainment complexes that, before the pandemic struck earlier this year, created a vibrant social and economic powerhouse.

He also welcomed the newly-freed South African leader Nelson Mandela to New York City for a visit in June 1990.

After serving his historic time in office, Mayor Dinkins continued to push for change as an elder statesman, remaining active in politics and serving on several key boards, working hard to continue boosting the city as an economic powerhouse. He assumed a position as a professor of political practice at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and also took to the airwaves by hosting “Dialogue with Dinkins” on WLIB radio for 10 years.

Photo: Belinda Dixon
DC 37 Retiree and activist Belinda Dixon, at right, with Mayor David Dinkins.
DC 37 Retiree Belinda Dixon, who continues working as an activist and community volunteer, said, “The mayor and his wife were like family to me . . . like a favorite uncle.”

In an editor’s letter published in the Staten Island Advance, Dixon recalled volunteering for Dinkins and serving as secretary to the Civilian Complaint Review Board. She remembered when Mayor Dinkins brought the first Black Mayor’s Conference to New York and her role as a tour guide for mayors from Mississippi, Michigan, and Alabama.

Dixon spoke about Dinkins’ work to relieve racial tensions during his administration, including a project called “Increase the Peace Corps,” an initiative to teach volunteers about cultural differences in the aftermath of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights riots in 1991, a tragedy he was wrongly blamed for.

Local 1549 Second Vice President Ralph Palladino remembers working on Dinkins’ Mayoral campaigns.

“I was proud to be part of the Italian Americans for Dinkins with Robert De Niro, our current Mayor Bill de Blasio, and others. Also, I was a member of Healthcare Workers for Dinkins,” Palladino said.

Palladino recalled his fondest memory of working on the 1989 campaign.

“It was when we as Italian Americans for Dinkins marched with him in the Bensonhurst Columbus Day Parade. This was among the scariest moments in my life. The sidewalks were packed, and people were cheering wildly, until our group came with Dave in the lead,” he recalled. “The response was eerie silence. When Dave took to the podium and started to speak, the crowd started yelling and looked like they were going to overrun the stage. But Dave was at his best. He said, ‘STOP! WHEN I AM ELECTED MAYOR, I WILL BE YOUR MAYOR TOO!’

“He was summoning up his best Marine,” Palladino said. “I respected and liked him. He certainly was much better that the divider and hater his successor Rudy Giuliani was. He made history!”