‘He made us stronger’: City leaders in Harlem bid farewell to former Mayor Dinkins

A man holds a sign in appreciation of former Mayor David Dinkins outside the National Action Network’s Harlem headquarters on Nov. 28, 2020, where a memorial tribute to Dinkins was held.
Photo by Dean Moses


A who’s who of the New York political scene united in Harlem on Saturday morning, Nov. 28, to honor the life of former Mayor David Dinkins, who died on Monday night at the age of 93.

The first Black mayor of New York was remembered as a barrier-breaking icon of New York politics by those who took the dais at the National Action Network’s House of Justice on West 145th Street.

NAN founder Reverend Al Sharpton led the celebration of Dinkins’ life. Among those in attendance were current Mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned and worked for Dinkins, Senator Charles Schumer and former New York Governor David Paterson.

For well over two hours, the morning’s mood often shifted between somber and jovial tones, but one constant always remained: Dinkins’ lasting legacy. When the 93-year-old passed away earlier this week, he left a host of bereaved New Yorkers, many of whom consist of fellow elected officials he had befriended and mentored over the years. 

Reverend Al Sharpton speaks to the crowd.Photo by Dean Moses
Former Congressman Charlie RangelPhoto by Dean Moses

“I’ve known him since I was 16 and David Dinkins was a fierce fighter for what was right. He had his own way of fighting,” Sharpton said to a packed house.

This speech, like many others throughout the ceremony, dismissed the negative picture that some painted during Dinkins’ time in office. A variety of jabs were taken at the media for years of negative press, with some alleging that Dinkins’ immediate successor at City Hall, Rudy Giuliani, received the credit that the late mayor deserved for helping to turn New York around during the 1990s.

Speakers on Saturday said that Dinkins inherited a broken and divided city when he took office in 1990, but through tireless fortitude he was able to establish programs such as “Safe Streets, Safe City” and the creation of Beacon Centers (afterschool programming). Sharpton and others in attendance deemed Dinkins a hero who saved New York City in its time of need by decreasing crime by 25%. 

“He helped to change the plague,” Sharpton added, “He said that the police were not above the law. David Dinkins was our mayor, our hero, and we will never let you desecrate the name of David Norman Dinkins!”

Dinkins’ compassion for the disenfranchised and the overlooked likewise garnered him praise, with former Congressman Charles Rangel fondly stating that he was his brother, a sincere man who loved people and worked diligently for them.

Each notable politician, past and present, in attendance lauded Dinkins as a true inspiration, crediting him for the positions they now hold.

Manhattan Borough President Gale BrewerPhoto by Dean Moses
Congressman Adriano EspillatPhoto by Dean Moses
Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, arrives at Saturday’s memorial tribute to David DinkinsPhoto by Dean Moses
Senator Charles SchumerPhoto by Dean Moses

De Blasio and wife, Chirlane McCray, both shared their appreciation for the trail Dinkins’ blazed and the many generations he has inspired, along with highlighting key moments that changed history. 

“They helped Nelson Mandela to the presidency of South Africa, they treated him like the head of state he was meant to be. This city, by honoring Nelson Mandela, changed the world. Don’t forget what [Dinkins] did,” de Blasio said. “He believed in us, he made us better, he made us stronger.” 

Paterson went a step further still, correlating the scrutiny Dinkins faced to the negative feedback de Blasio is undergoing today. He shed light on statistics from 1984-1990 when a 64% increase in crime with 2000 homicides flooded the city.

The former governor stressed that Dinkins did not take office until 1990 and inherited a crime ridden city. 

Outside the House of Justice, members of the public gathered to pay their respects to the former Mayor, some even holding signs thanking him.

NAN’s headquarters was a prime location for Dinkins to hold personal and political events, including the celebration of his own birthday. On Saturday, it also served as a celebratory bookend to his life.