Former mayor David Dinkins is quite the raconteur–storyteller. And, he has decades of living behind him to engagingly share.
At Medgar Evers College, last week, Honorable David Dinkins meandered through the storyline of his life with Dr. Brenda M. Greene, chair of the Medgar Evers English Department and the executive director of the Center for Black Literature.
The mayor journeyed with an almost-filled Founders Auditorium, back to his childhood where he was raised in part by his mother and grandmother in Harlem. He reminisced, “We were poor, but we didn’t know it.” Later, he lived with his father in Trenton, N.J. and stepmother, a teacher, who was like a second mother to him.
Entering the World War II years, he wanted to join a select branch of the armed services and he recalled his perseverance through the rejection that he ignored, as he went from one recruiting station to another, in order to be accepted as a Black recruit into the Marines. He was discharged in 1946.
Mayor Dinkins looks back at his life with humor and many expanded one-liners. But also, he clearly has the demeanor of an elder statesman. The mayor steered his story through his college years – Howard, graduate school – a fellowship at Rutgers where he dropped out, and later, law school. He quipped, “You don’t have to be that smart to go to law school.”
Working at night at a liquor store while in law school, he told how he kept that night job when he first began to practice law.
He covered his years involved in local politics dropping the names of his political cronies like international businessman Wally Ford, Assemblyman Bert Baker, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and also, Basil Patterson, Percy Sutton and Charlie Rangel (the last three with him were known as the Gang of Four).
He spoke of being president of the Board of Elections, and for 10 years city clerk, then elected, after three attempts, borough president of Manhattan in 1985. He was voted in as mayor in 1989, defeating three-term Ed Koch.
During the Q&A that followed “the conversation” with Dr. Greene, the mayor said that his greatest achievement was receiving Nelson Mandela. “I feel fortunate to have lived during his lifetime,” he said.
When asked what is the most critical issue to be dealt with today? He responded, “Education.” Getting the population educated increases their livelihood; healthcare, housing, everything improves. “The most important thing is education,” he repeated.
In the receptive admiring audience were students and neighbors, community leaders and politicians, many officers and members of the presenting organization – The Community Council for Medgar Evers College and members from a long list of event co-sponsors – education, business, women’s, civic, and community organizations.
Four women dressed in red and white, just rows from the front, proudly held the mayor’s book, “A Mayor’s Life, Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic,” published in 2013. All were members of the Brooklyn Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a co-sponsor of the evening. Among them, Shawna Myles, a school administrator, said, “We all bought the book and are excited to get it signed.”