Mayor David N. Dinkins records
Collection REC0037 - RG 001. Office of the Mayor of the City of New York
Collection REC0037 - RG 001/RG 001.DND. Office of the Mayor, David N. Dinkins
2460 cubic feet (3,356 boxes) : [extent and box count do not include subgroup 4, series 5: issue mail.]
1948-1998, bulk 1990-1993
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A small number of photographs have been digitized and are available to view through our online gallery.
After the war ended, Dinkins attended Howard University, graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. While in college, Dinkins joined the fight for civil rights, forcing a factory where he worked in the summer to desegregate bathrooms and a bar in the neighborhood to open to everyone. While attending Howard, he met his future wife, Joyce Burrows, the daughter of a Harlem politician who was among the first Black lawmakers to join Tammany Hall, the Manhattan Democratic machine. They married in 1953 and moved to Harlem where they eventually had two children, David Jr., and Donna.
After attending Brooklyn Law School from 1953 to 1956 and maintaining a private law practice for several years, David Dinkins held several political positions, including Assemblyman from 1965-1966; President of the New York City Board of Elections from 1972-1973; City Clerk from 1975-1985; and Manhattan Borough President from 1986 through the end of 1989. In every position, Dinkins, using his personal experiences, worked hard as a champion of the poor and disenfranchised. The perception that Dinkins, as a mediator rather than a fighter, would reduce racial tensions led nearly all Black as well as about 30 percent of white voters to elect Dinkins, rather than his Republican opponent, Rudolph Giuliani, who came across as a hard-nosed disciplinarian, to the top post at City Hall.
On January 1, 1990, David Norman Dinkins was sworn in as the 106th Mayor of New York City, after beating the three-term incumbent, Edward I. Koch, in the Democratic primary, and then the Republican nominee, Rudolph Giuliani, in the general election. His election in November 1989 marked the first time in city history that a Black person was chosen to serve as the city’s Chief Executive Officer.
Upon entering office, Mayor Dinkins’ priorities were the construction of more housing for the poor and homeless; better health care, particularly for children; new health clinics in impoverished neighborhoods; and a crackdown on drugs and crime, including a recommendation of creating drug-free zones around schools. However, on assuming office, Dinkins was confronted with an already large budget deficit for the fiscal year (which rose to over $1 billion) and a projected gap of more than $1 billion for the next one, leaving few resources for the programs he cherished. Yet, Mayor Dinkins managed to achieve balanced budgets throughout his term, raising taxes to hire more police under the “Safe Streets, Safe City” program, which facilitated a marked decline in crime. At the same time, Dinkins supported the revision of the agency that oversees police abuse complaints, the Civilian Complaint Review Board. In 1993, the CCRB became a civilian-run agency, independent of the police department.
Overall major crime dropped throughout Dinkins’ last three years in office. His police buildup laid the groundwork for his successor, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, to continue pushing to make the city streets safer.
Aside from tax increases, Dinkins brokered several other deals to increase city revenue. One deal with Disney helped revitalize Times Square. Another, in which Dinkins signed a 99-year lease with the United States Tennis Association, includes a fee for the city based on the US Open’s gross income; the yearly revenue benefits the city more than that of the New York Yankees, Mets, Knicks, and Rangers combined. Other revenue-producing events started by Dinkins include Fashion Week and Restaurant Week.
Mayor Dinkins supported education improvements, approving the Beacon School Program, which encouraged all-year schooling, and endorsing the use of school buildings after hours for improvement programs for adults and children. He also worked with the teachers’ union to increase salaries. On the housing front, he continued rehabilitation projects started by the Koch administration and managed to rehabilitate more housing in his one term than Giuliani would go on to do over his two terms. Strengthened investment in supportive housing for the mentally ill and homeless led to the city’s lowest homeless shelter population in two decades.
In his inaugural address on January 1, 1990, Mayor David Dinkins pronounced his often racially polarized city “a gorgeous mosaic of race and religious faith,” vowing that his administration would never lead by dividing. This assertion was tested several times during his four-year term with explosive racial incidents, including the Black boycott of the Korean-owned grocery store in 1990, the Crown Heights riots in 1991, and the Rodney King verdict in California in 1992.
Dinkins’ slow response to some of these incidents seemed to suggest he was unaware, at first, of the gravity of the situations. While he eventually led negotiations to end the boycott and riots, it led many people to wonder about his capability to bring the city together. Dinkins always regretted that he did not send the police into Crown Heights earlier. However, Mayor Dinkins responded admirably during the period after the Rodney King verdict was rendered in California by going to neighborhoods like Washington Heights and quelling incipient rioting with his presence. Still, David Dinkins lost his re-election bid in 1993 to his Republican opponent, Rudolph Giuliani.
After his mayoralty, Dinkins became a professor at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and served on several boards for organizations such as the United States Tennis Association, Children’s Health Fund, and Council on Foreign Relations. He never sought another elective role in politics but stayed involved by providing endorsements and campaign support for his preferred candidates.
David N. Dinkins died at his Upper East Side home on November 23, 2020, at 93 years old. He was predeceased by his wife, Joyce, two months earlier.
- Carlson, Michael. “David Dinkins Obituary.”
- Dinkins, David N., and Peter Knobler.
- McFadden, Robert D. “David N. Dinkins, New York’s First Black Mayor, Dies at 93.”
- “Remembering David Dinkins.” Manhattan Neighborhood Network, November 24, 2020. https://www.mnn.org/blog/remembering-david-dinkins.
- Rich, Wilbur C.
- “The Honorable David N. Dinkin's Biography.” The HistoryMakers, 2020. https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/honorable-david-n-dinkins.
- Chief of Staff, Secretary and Assistants to the Mayor
- Deputy Mayors
- Office of Correspondence Services
- Office of Operations
- Press Office
- Office of Special Projects and Events
- Office of Intergovernmental Affairs
- Constituency offices
- Other mayoral offices
- Commissions and committees
- First Lady Joyce Burrows Dinkins
- Video and sound recordings
- Guide to the records of Mayor David N. Dinkins, 1990-1993
- In Progress
- Alexandra Hilton
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- Edition statement
- This finding aid is an updated and expanded version of a preliminary guide that was created during 2007-2009.