Point of View Columns

Dinkins Deserved Better – Shame on the New York Times

There are few things in life of which you can be sure. One is that what you read below will never appear in the New York Times.

On November 24, 2020, less than 24 hours after former New York City Mayor David Dinkins dies, the Times published an article by someone named Robert McFadden which was somewhere between a faux eulogy and a factually challenged hit job. Typically, when public figures pass away the initial articles gently memorialize the departed individual, Opinions are like navels – everybody has one – and usually the opinion pieces come after a respectful pause – of at least a few days.

The Times sought to recycle half-truths, falsehoods and the opinions of Mr. McFadden which, because the article appeared in the so-called newspaper of record, too many people will take this savaging of Dinkins to be true.

A full refutation of the Times article would give that article too much credit and credence but there are 10 points in this piece that warrant comment.

  1. McFadden states that Dinkins was “turned out by voters after one term….” The reality is that losing by 50,000 votes out of 2 million cast is not being “turned out”. And when the Trojan Horse of the Staten Island Secession Referendum which supercharged the conservative white vote in that borough it is a wonder that Dinkins only lost by 50,000 votes.
  • Ed Koch and Fiorella LaGuardia, imperfect mayors that they were, were certainly more flamboyant than Dinkins. Flamboyance is not a character trait that distinguishes a public servant – keep in mind that Trump is flamboyant. But to suggest that they were “Gullivers bestriding him” is simply unkind and unworthy. And who, exactly are the “many historians and political experts” who expressed this opinion?
  • To describe Dinkins as a caretaker mayor is simply a false and unsustainable narrative which may reflect Mr. McFadden’s opinion. Again, opinions are like navels – everyone has one. But he is not entitled to his own facts. Unless he is simply willing to ignore (a) the Safe Cities Safe Streets program which added tens of thousands of police to the NYPD and began the decline in the crime rate which skyrocketed under that Gulliver named Koch and for which Giuliani later claimed credit (b) a renewed focus on childhood education which the childless Koch never advocated (c) established New York’s first Minority and Women’s Business Program which became the largest such municipally based program in the United States – a program that was working so well that other “Gulliver” Giuliani ended the program within an hour of his taking the oath of office (d) brought the Democratic National Convention to New York at a time when New York needed some positive perspectives on the national stage (e) establishing the Civilian Complaint Review Board over the virulent opposition of too many members of the NYPD, (f) establishing the inclusion of the LGBTQ  community in the administration of the city (g) establishing the National Tennis Center – the home of the U.S. Open – which has brought billions of dollars to New York over the past two decades and (h) in what is a shocking reflection of how skewed the McFadden article is, there was literally no mention of the fact that Dinkins led the city with calm poise in the aftermath of the first World Trade Center bombing in February of 1993, the largest act of domestic terrorism in the city since the Wall Street bombing in 1920. Caretaker indeed.
  • And not to dwell on McFadden’s false and dishonorable narrative, but a “caretaker” does not restore class and dignity to the office of mayor as Dinkins did. And a “caretaker” doesn’t manage the city through a horrific financial crisis and lay the foundation for the economic recovery for which that “Gulliver” Giuliani claimed credit.
  • McFadden refers to the revitalizing of Times Square as a minor accomplishment. The truth, of which he must know, is that by 1990, under the leadership of that other “Gulliver” Ed Koch, Times Square was a neon Sodom and Gomorrah and the Times Square Business Improvement District which was totally supported by Dinkins transformed that area into a global tourist destination – ranking favorably with the Ginza in Tokyo and Trafalgar Square in London.
  • McFadden refers to the “insurmountable legacy of Crown Heights” as being the reason for Dinkins being a one term mayor. The reality is that Dinkins received the same percentage of white votes and Jewish votes in 1993 as he did in 1989 the difference was turnout, and without belaboring the point one can ask why then Governor Mario Cuomo supported such a measure on the ballot when it would clearly not be to the benefit of his fellow Democrat Dinkins.
  • The McFadden article is proof in black and white (no pun intended) that race was always the prism through which Dinkins was viewed by the New York press – the City Hall press corps was virtually all white at the time and seemed to be committed to fully displaying his missteps and downplaying his successes and achievements. If Dinkins walked on water the headline in the New York Times would be “Dinkins Can’t Swim”.
  • Somehow, in his narrative of the Dinkins years Mr. McFadden couldn’t find space to mention how the City Hall police riot at which Giuliani was a keynote speaker inflamed the passions of race in this city. Cars were overturned, bystanders were assaulted and Dinkins was hung in effigy as he was referred to as ‘the washroom attendant” (meant to be a racist insult and in this context sounds a lot like that “caretaker” characterization) by predominantly white police officers, too many of whom were on duty at the time.
  • Finally, McFadden’s gratuitous insult to the Dinkins administration by describing his cabinet as a group of “goads, gadflies and bureaucrats” is one of those alternative reality comments that barely deserves a response. Let it suffice to say that Carl Weisbrod, Kenneth Knuckles, Sally Hernandez Pinero, George Daniels, Betsy Gotbaum and Peter Sherwood – all of whom have gone on to outstanding careers – would find his characterization as shameful and laughable were it not for the intent to further demean a man who was both good and great.

David N. Dinkins was deserving of better. The people who supported him and worked for him deserved better. The people who supported and loved him deserved better. The first Black mayor of the City of New York who served with dignity during some very undignified times deserved better.

The City of New York deserved better.


32 thoughts on “Dinkins Deserved Better – Shame on the New York Times

  1. Linda Walton says:

    WALLACE… THANK YOU!!! I woke up a little past midnight and saw the article. I WAS AGHAST…So disrespectful and a total disregard for the grief experienced by his family, friends, and people who loved him.

  2. Sally Pinero says:

    Wallace I am so grateful you tore apart this racist, condescending, full of lies and deliberate misstatements and gratuitous and snide remarks sham of a story. I can’t believe the Times published it. Shame on them.

  3. Thank You for this. I both weeped and rejoiced after reading your point of view. I stand on your side. NYC and Mayor Dinkins deserves better. In his book, Major described in great detail the injustices he had to endure. A must read for every New Yorker. Rev Dr Valerie Oliver Durrah

  4. Deenie says:

    Here, here! It was disgraceful what McFadden wrote and should have never been printed… I am waiting on the rest of the black press to do as you have and repudiate McFadden and the NYT, and reaffirm Dinkins’ legacy.

  5. Ken Knuckles says:

    Thank you for your strong and most accurate rebuttal. With the passage of time, Dave Dinkins’ legacy of accomplishments and devotion to the City of New York, will only grow!!

  6. Thank you, Mr. Ford. I am a white Jewish woman who well remembers the Dinkins years and the utter disrespect and disdain with which he was treated by the cognoscenti. I think you debunked the scurrilous lies of Mr McFadden quite well. How sad that the NYT has STILL not learned to think straight when it comes to race.

  7. Paula Rice says:

    Thanks for writing the truth, and the facts .David Dinkins’ legacy deserved better. It’s a shame that the double standard still persists.

  8. dskeete67 says:

    The City of New York deserves better. McFadden’s article was outrightly racist. Let’s not put water in our mouth to speak.
    Mayor Dinkins served with dignity. He was never afforded the overwhelming support like Koch and Guiliani received, similar to the treatment that Barrack Obama received from the Republicans in Congress and the Tea party/ Neo Nazi’s.
    We do not need McFadden to tell us what Mayor Dinkins did. We knew he did a fantastic job despite the lack of support.

  9. Warren S. Whitlock says:

    Thank you.
    Mayor Dinkins paved the path to public service for many us and infused the core value of integrity. His welcome of Nelson Mandela to our city after his 27 incarceration- with his first stop being Boys & Girls High School field – in my Bed-Stuy neighborhood – will be a lifelong memory and highlight. Rest In Peace, Mayor Dinkins! Thank you.

  10. Robin Verges says:

    Thank you Prof. Ford! SOMEBODY had to say it. I was mute with stupefaction and anger when I read that vitriol. Where was Sam Roberts? Where was Dean Baquet?

  11. Omowale says:

    I may have had issues with some of mayor Dinkins policies but he was definitely not deserving of his treatment during his time as mayor, after he was out of office and since his passing. Unfortunately, the credit of his many accomplishments were given to his predecessor but as we see, time has revealed them for the incompetent dishonest brokers that they are. So much of this is unfortunately driving by race not fact. Even more disappointing is that the Times by publishing this trash, contributes to the negative narrative they have always attempted to attach to the Mayor.

  12. Lucille McEwen says:

    Thank you, Wally! I am so grateful to you for taking action and highlighting a few of the many major accomplishments of our Mayor Dinkins! It is unfortunate that the Times made such a poor decision in publishing that inaccurate piece.
    Peace and blessings,

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