The Unfinished Mayoralty

David Dinkins Bares His Soul About Mark Green, Al Sharpton, a Black-Latino Coalition, Crown Heights, Rudy Giuliani, and His Own Legacy

In 1977, Herman Badillo, the turncoat Democrat who is running for mayor on the Republican line, jumped onto a crowded mayoral bandwagon that included former Manhattan borough president Percy Sutton, who is black. "Percy announced his candidacy in February, and Badillo came along and announced his in June," Dinkins recalled. "But this isn't a tit for tat or who owes whom what," he insisted. "This is about these particular candidates in this particular year. That's what motivates me. I don't think Freddie can succeed. I think Mark can."

Endorsements, however, can potentially hurt candidates. Is David Dinkins wary of some of Mark Green's opponents who might dredge up Crown Heights to embarrass Green? "Will any candidate come out and try to tar Mark Green with this brush?" asked the would-be kingmaker. "I don't think they will be very successful."

What if Republican candidates Michael Bloomberg and Herman Badillo play the race card? "There is no point in me worrying about what Bloomberg or Badillo will do," Dinkins replied. "I cannot affect it. What I continue to do is make the point about Gavin and Angela Cato—two young kids, one who was killed, and one who was severely injured—and how the media in some instances have portrayed this as a circumstance of rioting over several days culminating in the death of one Hasidic man. That is just inaccurate. Chronologically, that's not what happened." Dinkins was referring to the three days of violence that erupted in the summer of 1991 after seven-year-old Gavin was struck and killed by a car that was part of an entourage transporting the Lubavitcher grand rabbi, Menachem Schneerson. August 19 marks the 10th anniversary of the upheaval in which Hasidic student Yankel Rosenbaum was murdered.

Dinkins scorned revisionist historians like Giuliani and former mayor Ed Koch, whom he accused of attempting to tarnish his legacy. "Yankel Rosenbaum got stabbed in the first few hours, and there was sporadic rioting over a period of time; it did not go on continuously for three days," he contended. "It is not true that [former police commissioner] Lee Brown and I gave orders to hold back the cops and let blacks attack Jews. Giuliani and Ed Koch to this day blame me for that. Ed Koch calls it a pogrom, which is by definition a state-sponsored activity. But the courts have dismissed the lawsuits against me and Lee Brown. They found no such evidence. Giuliani chose to settle the case for $1 million when he could have moved for summary judgment. I have never seen all of the papers, but it wouldn't surprise me if they speak of what the hospital did, because they were really responsible for the death of Yankel Rosenbaum by overlooking the second wound."

Riding a wave of outrage from Jewish and white voters, Giuliani defeated Dinkins in 1993. Today, Dinkins, a professor at Columbia University, still struggles to wipe clean the image of him as a "murderer" and Jew hater. "I have a sterling record of supporting the Jewish community and the state of Israel," he pointed out. "In 1975 I was among a group of blacks who formed the Black Americans in Support of Israel Committee. At the time, the United Nations had passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. I went to Israel when the missiles were falling there. I am the guy who stood at Madison Square Garden all by myself denouncing Louis Farrakhan for calling Judaism a gutter religion. So there is little that anybody can do to me personally that they haven't already done in this regard."

Dinkins argued that race relations was better under his administration. "I've taken a big hit because of Rudy," he said. "When rioting after the beating of Rodney King happened all over the country, we did not have rioting in New York City. Rudolph Giuliani, Ed Koch, and Al D'Amato publicly praised me for calming our city. Later on they decided I was a bad guy." He said Giuliani will be remembered for condoning stop and frisks by cops that violate the civil rights of African Americans and Latinos.

"Some in our police department think it's OK if you violate the constitutional rights of 10 people if one of them happens to have a gun or contraband of some sort," he claimed. "I say they're wrong. First of all, you're violating the rights of all 10. Worse yet, the bad guy may go free because the evidence is suppressed and not permitted to be introduced as evidence because it was secured unconstitutionally. These kinds of things are out there for everyone to see what some of us have been saying for a long time."

Giuliani, Dinkins continued, refused to recognize top black elected officials like Carl McCall and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. It was only after the uproar over the police shooting of Amadou Diallo that Giuliani seemed to relax his isolationist stance of not talking to his black critics. "Here's a guy who for five years refused to meet with Carl and Virginia—with whom he had not met since she was elected to office," Dinkins said. "When he finally met with them, some journalists wrote: 'The mayor is reaching out.' Reaching out? Ain't that a. . . . ? In my case, anything I said about Rudy during the first few years of his administration was 'sour grapes.' I was 'bitter' because I was a 'disgruntled former mayor.' "

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