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David Dinkins: Leading New York Is The 'Greatest Job There Is'

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As New York City enters the final stretch of its latest mayoral campaign, Tell Me More host Michel Martin hears from a former Big Apple mayor who made history: David Dinkins.

Winning the office in 1989, Dinkins earned the glare of national attention not only as the mayor of one of the country's most important cities, but also as that city's first black mayor.

It was a difficult time for the city. Race relations were fractured, the economy was struggling, and many neighborhoods were gripped by a crack epidemic.

Dinkins chronicles that period, and his political journey, in the new book A Mayor's Life: Governing New York's Gorgeous Mosaic.


Interview Highlights

On the 1991 Crown Heights riot

The New York City police — who are the best in the world at controlling riot situations — did not do a sufficiently good job on that occasion. And it wasn't until, after a couple of days, I said, "Whatever the hell you're doing, it ain't working." ... But in the meantime, it was said by some that I or others in our administration had given orders for the police to not stop the blacks from attacking Jews. That just wasn't true. ... It was particularly harmful to me because I considered myself a friend to the Jewish community and the state of Israel. ... Certainly, I would have insisted sooner in Crown Heights that the police did a better job. I would not have tolerated that as long as I did.

On a Howard University professor's influence on him

She wouldn't tolerate grammatical errors. She was insistent that we speak correctly. And I learned from her ... in every office that I have had, where we had speechwriters and what not, I could envision little 3x5 cards, that would say "don't you dare ever say between he and I."

On his legacy

I'm confident that when people look back ... 20, 30 years, they might say, "Oh, gee, you know? Those guys did a pretty good job." I like New York, I think it's — with all due respect to those of you who live elsewhere — I think it's the greatest town in the world. And being mayor of New York is the greatest job there is, save the one that President Obama has.

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