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Remembering David Dinkins, First Black Mayor of N.Y.C.

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It’s Wednesday. We’re off tomorrow and Friday for Thanksgiving, but we’ll be back on Monday.

Weather: Clouds give way to sun; high in the mid-50s. It’s a rainy Thanksgiving Day, but the rest of the long weekend will see at least some sun and be in the 50s.

Alternate-side parking: In effect today. Suspended on Thanksgiving Day.


A somewhat reluctant trailblazer. A leader at a difficult period of fiscal crisis and racial tension. A mentor who inspired other leaders.

Those were some of the ways that prominent New Yorkers remembered David N. Dinkins, the first (and so far only) Black mayor of New York City, after he died on Monday night. Many said his short time in office had a lasting influence.

“He simply put us on a better path,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday. “And he did it with heart and warmth and love.”

[Read more about how political leaders remembered Mr. Dinkins.]

Mr. Dinkins was born in Trenton, N.J., and briefly moved to Harlem with his mother and sister while in first grade. He would return to the neighborhood with his wife, Joyce B. Dinkins, who died in October.

He would later attend Brooklyn Law School, serve in the State Assembly and as city clerk, and become one of the first Black lawmakers to join the inner circle of Tammany Hall.

Mr. Dinkins served a single term as mayor, from 1990 through 1993. His tenure has been judged harshly at times, but it was also filled with accomplishments that included helping the city’s poorest residents.

He led the development of health clinics in underserved neighborhoods and started a now widespread after-school program.

Mr. Dinkins also was a racial reconciliator, taking office months after the murder of Yusef Hawkins, a Black teenager, by a white mob in Brooklyn and the rape of a white jogger in Central Park that led to the wrongful convictions of five Black and Latino teenagers.

“He really, really truly believed that New York was a gorgeous mosaic and it could even become more gorgeous,” said Douglas Muzzio, a former Dinkins campaign worker. “That was his raison d’être.”

Many criticized his handling of racial violence in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn after a car in a rabbi’s motorcade killed a Black boy. Mr. Dinkins would later take part of the blame for the slow response and say he considered it his biggest mistake.

Mr. Dinkins helped inspire a generation of Black candidates to run for office, including Laurie Cumbo, the majority leader of the New York City Council. Ms. Cumbo said he “inspired and ushered in the new wave of Black elected leaders, which then opened up opportunities for all people to know that they can also lead.”

He was also mentor to Mr. de Blasio, who credited him with playing a defining role in his life. “I would say, ‘You know, mayor, all I owe you is my marriage, my family, my career, nothing else than that,’” Mr. de Blasio said Tuesday on WCBS 880. Mr. de Blasio met his wife, Chirlane McCray, while working in the Dinkins administration.

[At New York’s nadir, Mr. Dinkins gave the city the “freedom to imagine.”]

In 1990, New York City had 2,245 homicides — an all-time high. Over Mr. Dinkins’s tenure, homicides fell by 13 percent as he added police officers to combat the troubling crime rates.

Mr. Dinkins also helped transform the city’s infrastructure, expanding the National Tennis Center in Queens and starting the revitalization of Times Square.

“He entered City Hall at a difficult time in New York’s history, and he helped set the city on a course for success — and a reduction in crime — that no one at the time imagined possible,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, who served as mayor years later.


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But at most competitions she attends, Jessica stands out: She is a 15-year-old Black girl in a game where most players are white and male — and she often dominates her matches.

“I’m usually one of the only people of color at tournaments,” said Jessica, a sophomore at Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts in Manhattan. “But it’s not something I’ve worried about that much. It doesn’t really matter in the game of chess.”

The U.S. Chess Federation, the sport’s governing body, does not release information on the race or ethnicity of its members. But Jessica’s coaches say she is ranked as one of the top 10 Black female players in the country.

The organization uses a rating system; a player must reach a rating of 2,200 to qualify for master. Jessica’s now hovers around 1,950 — and she said she hopes to become the first Black woman to reach the mark and become a role model for other Black girls.

Jessica said she has long had a passion for the game, from starting a chess club in third grade to traveling to tournaments with her mother from their home in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. She received a $40,000 college scholarship last month for her progress.

“When she’s playing chess, it’s like a different person comes out,” said Tyrell Harriott, her coach of five years.

He hopes stories like Jessica’s can reframe the thinking around who belongs at chess tournaments.

“When we see little Black kids,” Mr. Harriott said, “why can’t it be that we see young, smart chess players as well?”

It’s Wednesday — chase your dreams.


Dear Diary:

I was catching a Madison Avenue bus near Grand Central to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I was prepared with exact change. But as I was about to deposit it in the fare box, the bus driver said it was free to ride that day.

I asked him whether it was a holiday of some kind. Playfully, he said he wouldn’t tell me.

I smiled and said that he had to tell me when my stop came.

When it was time for me to exit the bus, I asked him again: Why was there no charge?

“Because the box is broken,” he said.

— Joyce Fama


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