David N. Dinkins, the first Black mayor of New York City, passed away on Monday night at his Upper East Side home, Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed to The New York Times.
The historic mayor's death follows the passing of his wife, Joyce, who died on October 11, according to CNN.
Dinkins represented one of the peaks of Harlem's political power in New York City and he spent decades fighting for housing, economic equality and social justice.
But his term in office was also marred by openly racist attacks by his opponents and he was eventually unseated in a racially vitriolic campaign led by his longtime political nemesis, Rudy Giuliani.
David Dinkins, the first Black mayor of New York City, has died at age 93.
He is credited with investing in public housing and promoting racial harmony in NYC's "gorgeous mosaic," though he also expanded police. NY AG Letitia James said: "I, and others, stand on his shoulders." pic.twitter.com/O0LSvT3FAD
— AJ+ (@ajplus) November 24, 2020
Dinkins got his start in politics after serving in the U.S. Marines and getting his law degree from Brooklyn College in 1956. Throughout his career, he served in the New York State Assembly, as president of the New York City Board of Elections, and as Manhattan borough president in 1985, eventually unseating Mayor Ed Koch in the 1989 Democratic primary. He went on to narrowly beat Giuliani in the race, but his administration was almost immediately forced to address a series of crises.
His calm, respectful demeanor made him beloved by many New Yorkers, but the relentless racial attacks on his leadership, often led by Giuliani, plagued his term in office. His efforts to increase housing, address the AIDS crisis and heal racial divisions were impaired by events largely out of his control. Elected in the same year as the infamous Central Park rape case and the killing of Black teen Yusuf K. Hawkins, Dinkins had inherited a city with a record high murder rate while the country was going through a recession.
Giuliani stoked racial animus against Dinkins and even led a police riot in front of City Hall where officers shouted slurs at Black politicians and blamed the mayor for racial strife in the city. Many online noted the eerie similarities between the battles fought by Dinkins and Giuliani and those between former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump.
He eventually lost his reelection campaign against Giuliani, who explicitly used Dinkins' race to promote the idea that the mayor was the cause of the city's racial problems.
In 1992, @RudyGiuliani led a horrifically racist riot against then Mayor David Dinkins.
He has never apologized for his role in it nor has he condemned anyone who was involved in it.
— Yashar Ali ???? (@yashar) November 24, 2020
Despite the criticism that he faced from all sides, Dinkins tenure led to a decrease in murders and general crime, expanded affordable housing and several measures that helped deal with the AIDS/HIV crisis.
Dinkins is also well known for bringing the U.S. Open tennis event to Queens, something that has brought billions of dollars in investment to the city and become an annual staple of the borough. He also helped clean up Times Square and transform it from a dingy, crime and sex-ridden area to one that spurred a massive growth in tourism for the city.
"When asked why I lost, I used to say, 'Why do you think?' I did not want to say it out loud, but it's time. Now I say, 'Racism, plain and simple,'" Dinkins wrote in his 2013 memoir, "A Mayor's Life: Governing New York's Gorgeous Mosaic."
Dinkins was the city's 106th mayor and New York was the last of the country's biggest 10 cities to have its first Black mayor, according to The New York Times.
Dinkins' wife was a Howard University graduate and a Delta Sigma Theta soror according to NBC New York. Her death was also mourned throughout the New York City community. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city's former first lady was "dignified in everything she did" in a tweet acknowledging her passing.