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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Dinkins Tries To Set The Record Straight

History repeated itself this month when the editorial boards of The New York Times, New York Post and New York Daily News all backed one of the losing candidates in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Back in 1989, with four candidates vying to become the Democratic Party’s mayoral nominee, The Times and Post endorsed then-Mayor Ed Koch, and the Daily News threw its support to Richard Ravitch. Neither Koch nor Ravitch had an office in City Hall in January 1990. The winner of that primary, which also included city comptroller Harrison Goldin, was Manhattan borough president David Dinkins, who later won the general election to become the city’s first African-American mayor.

In his just-released memoir, A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic (Public Affairs) former Mayor Dinkins gives credit for much of his electoral success to the late Bill Lynch, who grew up the son of a potato farmer on Long Island’s North Fork and was Dinkins’ campaign manager in 1989. Lynch, a deputy mayor in the Dinkins administration, died last month. He was 72.

“The futility of my candidacy was so taken for granted that in late 1988 an influential supporter of the Republican candidate, U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, contacted Bill Lynch and asked him if, when Koch won the Democratic primary, he [Lynch] would come work for them,” Dinkins and his collaborator, Peter Knobler, write.

Former Mayor Dinkins, who is today a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, will be discussing his book on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m., at the Barnes & Noble Union Square, 33 East 17th St., Manhattan. The event is free and open to the public. Reservations are encouraged, but not mandatory, to come hear the 86-year-old former mayor talk about his life and career on Friday, Sept. 27, at 8:15 a.m., at New York Law School, 185 West Broadway, Manhattan.

The future mayor’s political career was launched by his father-in-law, Daniel Burrows, a former state Assemblyman and an influential figure in Harlem politics by the time Dinkins married Burrows’ daughter, Joyce. Dinkins, who served in the Marines near the end of World War II, met his future wife while both were undergraduates at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The Dinkins’ have two children, David, Jr., and Donna, and two grandchildren, Jamal and Kalila.

Indeed, Burrows encouraged his son-in-law to get a law degree, and Dinkins subsequently earned one from Brooklyn Law School. Dinkins was elected to the state Assembly in the mid-1960s, and appointed a deputy mayor by Mayor-elect Abe Beame in 1973, only to withdraw his name from consideration for the post because Dinkins had not filed his tax returns for at least the previous three years. Dinkins spent the late 1970s and early 1980s as the appointed City Clerk, a position from which he made a few unsuccessful bids for Manhattan borough president before winning that office in 1985.

His one-term as mayor began in 1990, and Dinkins devotes significant space in his memoir to dispel what Dinkins sees as a myth put forward by Giuliani’s successful 1993 mayoral campaign.

“From its peak in 1991, crime decreased more dramatically and more rapidly, both in terms of actual numbers and percentage, than at any time in modern New York City history,” the former mayor writes. “I drove down crime faster than any New York City mayor who came before me. Despite the budget deficit, my administration hired more new police officers than any other mayoral administration in the 20th century. These were the same cops who were used to such advantage by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Giuliani in their highly trumpeted turnaround.”

But Dinkins’ electoral undoing in 1993 had as much to do with the city’s mood as with what FBI statistics showed, something the author seems oblivious to when recounting some of the headline-grabbing crimes of the early 1990s, such as the Happy Land Fire, an act of arson that killed 87 people at a Bronx social club, as well as the stabbing death of 22-year-old Brian Watkins, a Utah resident who died while in the city to attend the 1990 U.S. Open tennis championship.

To use a tennis phrase, the former mayor’s contempt for Republicans also prompted him to make an unforced error. Dinkins claims in one passage that the just-freed South African Nelson Mandela came first to New York City, rather than Washington D.C., in 1990 because then-President George H.W. Bush “is said to have tipped off” the South African government in 1962 as to Mandela’s whereabouts while serving as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Not so. President Bush was CIA director in 1976-1977.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: