David Dinkins, who broke barriers as New York City’s first African American mayor, but was doomed to a single term by a soaring murder rate, stubborn unemployment and his mishandling of the Crown Heights riots, has died. He was 93.
Dinkins died Monday, the New York City Police Department confirms. The department said officers were called to the former mayor’s home in the evening. Initial indications were that he died of natural causes.
Dinkins’ death came just weeks after the death of his wife, Joyce, who died in October at the age of 89.
Political historians often trace Dinkins’ political downfall — he lost the mayor’s office to Rudy Giuliani in 1993 — to his handling of the Crown Heights riot in Brooklyn in 1991.
The violence began after a Black 7-year-old boy was accidentally killed by a car in the motorcade of Chabad leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. During the three days of anti-Jewish rioting by young Black men that followed, a rabbinical student was fatally stabbed. Nearly 190 people were hurt.
A state report issued in 1993 cleared Dinkins of the persistently repeated charge that he intentionally held back police in the first days of the violence, but criticized him for not stepping up as a leader.
In a 2013 memoir, Dinkins accused the police department of letting the disturbance get out of hand, and also took a share of the blame, on the grounds that “the buck stopped with me.” But he bitterly blamed his election defeat on prejudice: “I think it was just racism, pure and simple.”