It is rare for a living American to have any monument named in his or her honor, but David N. Dinkins, as New York City’s first Black mayor, is a rare individual. But even he was surprised to learn that the classic, beaux arts Manhattan Municipal Building, once planned to be sold and converted to a condominium, would be renamed the David N. Dinkins Municipal Building.
“I had no idea it was coming,” he told TNJ.com in a recent phone interview. “It was not until I was at this year’s U.S. Open with Mayor de Blasio that he pulled me aside and spoke to me privately about it. I was delighted.”
That delight was greatly magnified last Thursday at the event and the former mayor with the current mayor and a host of relatives, friends, and colleagues standing by, said of the moment, “Today, all of us literally stand on the shoulders of the labor of ‘sandhogs,’ the architects, engineers and, most importantly, the workers who proudly erected this skyscraper. And so, too, do I stand on the shoulders of the great men and women who helped transform this City and lift up so many.”
“I remember,” Dinkins continued, “the vision and daring courage of Percy Sutton, the inspired resourcefulness and brilliance of Basil Paterson and the rumpled genius of Bill Lynch, in whose footsteps we walk, and my brother, Congressman Charlie Rangel – who still lives. I walked with each one of them, literally and metaphorically, in and out of this building for more than fourteen years. First as City Clerk running the marriage license bureau, then as Manhattan Borough President. In spirit, they sit with us today. And I ask you to join me in applauding them as truly the first among firsts.”
While Dinkins evoked a portion of his illustrative career, it was left for Mayor de Blasio to add some significant data about the man he used to work for. “History still doesn’t accurately identify what this mayor did for the city,” he said. More than anything, he noted, Dinkins deserved credit for lowering the crime rate by hiring 9,000 additional police officers.
On this point former Governor David Paterson elaborated, noting that the mayor was never praised for lowering the city’s crime rate. “And I am glad this was a moment to set the record straight,” he said in a telephone interview last Friday.
Dinkins, 88, who was elected the 106th mayor in 1989, said, “It was not I, but a great bunch of people, women and men, who got the job done for which I got the credit. I will forever be grateful.”
He told reporters that, “I feel a kinship. I like Bill a lot, but I don’t try to give him political advice because I’ve been there. I know it is a difficult job, but it’s the greatest job there is.”
And the city should be forever grateful for Dinkins’ service, which along with his commitment to public safety but also to balancing the budget, Paterson noted. “Very little is said or written that when David arrived in office it was just after the recession in 1991,” he said. “But when he left office there was a $455 million surplus. This is another thing that got cleared up the other day.”
The building is the second landmark location named for the former mayor. In Flushing Meadows, there’s the David N. Dinkins Circle, the entrance to the tennis center he cherishes. Also, if you travel along the uptown side of 135th Street, the Walk of Fame, you’ll see he has an eternal place, a metal plaque is there not too far away from Sutton, Paul Robeson, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes.
Representative Charles Rangel who witnessed the ceremony said, “I cannot be more proud that the former Manhattan Municipal Building will bear the name of one of New York’s greatest public servants, my longtime best friend and former Mayor David Dinkins, whose legacy will forever be cemented as a great American and one of New York City’s finest.”
“A true man of service,” Rangel added, “as a Marine in World War II, to his tenure in the New York State Assembly and in City Hall, this remarkable man’s devotion to serving the people and nation will withstand years of inspiration for all who pass through the building.”