IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

NYC’s last Democratic mayor reflects on racial tensions

On Up with Steve Saturday, Dinkins expanded on a passage in his new book that recently caught some attention.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

On Up with Steve Saturday, Dinkins expanded on a passage in his new book that recently caught some attention.

When New York City voters go to the polls next month to elect a new mayor, they will likely choose Bill de Blasio, the populist candidate who boasts a full 49-point lead in the polls over his Republican opponent Joe Lhota. De Blasio would be the city’s first Democratic mayor since David Dinkins.

Dinkins, New York’s first and only African-American mayor, was elected in 1989 during a rough period in the city’s history. The early 1990s included a recession, violent crime, an AIDS epidemic, and rising racial tensions. Those deep racial and ethnic strains, simmering over several years and seen escalating during the 1991 riots in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, helped define this era in New York City and produced a hazardous re-election climate for Dinkins, who eventually lost in a rematch to Rudy Giuliani in 1993.

On Up with Steve Saturday, Dinkins expanded on a passage in his new book that recently caught some attention. He wrote:

“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.’”

“I might have more artfully phrased that,” Dinkins said Saturday. “If one considers the contest of ’89, I had three opponents… the conventional wisdom was that we wouldn’t win, because even if I finished first, I wouldn’t get 40%. And each of the other three being Jewish, their supporters would gang up against me and I’d lose. We got 51%.” He added, “I can’t say it’s just racism alone because I never would have been elected in ’89 had not a lot of white folks voted for me.”

Presiding over the nation’s most populous city is still “the best job I ever had,” Dinkins said. “We have as many ethnic identities in New York – almost as many as the United Nations has member nations.”

In this year’s Democratic primary, Dinkins supported candidate Bill Thompson, but said he also thinks highly of de Blasio and his wife, who both worked in Dinkins’ administration in the 1990s.

“We have to give him credit,” Dinkins said of the wave of support that’s grown around de Blasio. “I think the ad with his son Dante and the big afro is the best I’ve seen ever.”

Watch the entire conversation with Dinkins in the video player above.