Racism Revisited in the New York City Mayoral Race
Why are opponents of Bill de Blasio invoking the David Dinkins era?
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Why are opponents of Bill de Blasio invoking the David Dinkins era?
Over dinner this summer in a very Waspy, very white country club in Southampton, Long Island, far from the meanest streets of New York and its contentious mayoral election, I heard one of the guests say: “If Bill de Blasio wins we’ll be back to the Dinkins era.”
I knew that this interlocutor was a criminal lawyer with cop clients who was already upset about a federal judge’s ruling against the New York Police Department’s warrantless stop-and-frisk policy. But what did he mean by invoking the Dinkins era?
Well, David Dinkins, New York’s mayor from 1989 to 1993, is black — the only African-American ever to hold the position of mayor of America’s most cosmopolitan city. And, despite their relative worldliness, New York’s politicians still play the race card when it suits them. It helped Edward Koch win re-election twice to City Hall, but, more to the point, it greatly aided Republican Rudolph Giuliani’s narrow defeat of Dinkins in 1993.
Partly in response, Dinkins has recently published a memoir, A Mayor’s Life, which is a must-read for understanding the racial overtones of the contest to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg. With the Democrat de Blasio holding a 44 point lead over his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, in a recent poll, and with Lhota sponsor Giuliani openly stoking white fears of black criminals on behalf of his former deputy mayor, I thought it would be a good time to interview Dinkins, now 86 and a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
“When asked out loud why I lost,” wrote the former mayor in his memoir, “I used to say, ‘Why do you think?’ . . . Now I say, ‘Racism, plain and simple.’ ” To bring things up to date at his Columbia office, I asked Dinkins to explain statements like the one made by New York State Republican chairman Edward Cox, who said that the election of de Blasio, who worked at a low level in the Dinkins administration, would bring back “the Dinkins era of crime and grime and high welfare rolls.”
The former mayor demurred, preferring to defend his record. “ ‘Going back to the Dinkins days’ is nonsense,” he told me. “The fact is, the bad old days were the Koch days. When I became mayor, crime started to go down, certainly as early as 1991 . . . and that was our safe-streets, safe-city program, beacon schools, and all the rest of it.” All the rest of it, ironically, included “conservative” measures such as putting “6,500 more cops in uniform,” thousands of them assigned to foot patrol, as well as such “liberal” programs as tougher gun-control laws and more shelters for victims of domestic violence.
An even greater irony is that Dinkins named a fellow ex-Marine, Raymond Kelly, police commissioner in his third year as mayor. Now, as Bloomberg’s police commissioner, Kelly champions pre-emptive police tactics, including the arrest of peaceful anti-Bush protesters during the 2004 Republican convention, spying on Muslims, and stop-and-frisk, which has been indisputably, and unconstitutionally, aimed primarily at young blacks and Latinos. Yet to hear Bloomberg’s allies talk, you would think de Blasio was Dinkins in whiteface, and that Dinkins himself was a radical civil libertarian who let loose the forces of anarchy in Gotham City.
In May, for example, Bloomberg deputy Howard Wolfson attacked de Blasio’s criticism of stop-and-frisk, saying, absurdly, that “Mr. de Blasio may be nostalgic for the days when the ACLU set crime policy in this city.” More recently, Giuliani appeared with Lhota before the September primary and declared that “every one of these Democratic candidates will destroy policing as we know it, started by me and continued by Mayor Bloomberg. . . . It is not very difficult to go back to those days.”
Such hyperbole obscures not only that crime, including murders, begin dropping under Dinkins, but that he does not entirely oppose stop-and-frisk. Indeed, Dinkins, ever the cautious clubhouse politician, endorsed de Blasio’s black opponent in the primary, William Thompson, whose refusal to call for the elimination of the practice permitted de Blasio to gain minority support. Dinkins’s position is that stop-and-frisk, if deemed necessary, should never be conducted by a “rookie cop out on the beat without [the presence of] a seasoned professional,” as this would reduce the chances “for a stop-and-frisk . . . to be improperly employed.”
So, will running against the stubbornly conventional Dinkins help Lhota, against all odds, to beat de Blasio, the white liberal who is married to a black woman, and who as an adult adopted his mother’s Italian surname?
“De Blasio should have no problem” in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, Dinkins said. “However, who knows? Somebody said, ‘You think this will be Giuliani and Dinkins all over again?’ And I say if it is, I hope it’s ’89 [when he beat Giuliani by just 2 percent] and not ’93 [when he lost by the same percentage].” Remember, David Dinkins is black.
More from John R. MacArthur:
Publisher's Note — February 26, 2015, 3:00 pm
“Houellebecq, who is neither radical nor left-wing, understands perfectly France’s political elites and its duped and disempowered electorate.”
Publisher's Note — January 15, 2015, 3:58 pm
“I don’t see how you can properly cover a news story without showing the reader or viewer one of the key elements that made the story a story ”
Publisher's Note — December 18, 2014, 3:24 pm
“The massive prose work does possess a certain irony and subtlety, as well as a sickening urgency, which make it worth reading as a book, rather than as an accumulation of outrageous facts.”
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”