He was a racial reconciliator
Mr. Dinkins was elected not long after Yusef Hawkins, a Black teenager, was chased and murdered by a white mob in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, and a white jogger was beaten and raped in Central Park, leading to the conviction of five Black and Latino teenagers who were later exonerated.
It was a time of great racial strife in New York City and Mr. Dinkins issued a call for unity.
Stacy Lynch, the daughter of Mr. Dinkins’s chief political strategist, Bill Lynch, said her father often talked about how difficult it was to lead with that message of reconciliation.
“You had entire neighborhoods in the city that didn’t believe in his gorgeous mosaic,” said Ms. Lynch, now an aide to Mr. de Blasio. “The expectation that one person could resolve all of that was unrealistic. What he tried to do was create a space where people could work it out.”
But he also struggled to respond to racial violence in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, after a car in a rabbi’s motorcade killed a Black boy — an episode that came to define his mayoralty.
Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations, who served as a senior aide to Mr. Dinkins, recalled being a young man who was constantly enraged at the racial injustice that he encountered. But Mr. Dinkins, who was also outraged by racial injustice, had a different approach.
Mr. Gaspard, who referred to Mr. Dinkins as a “political Jackie Robinson,” recalled one St. Patrick’s Day parade where the crowd hurled beer cans at the mayor along with racial epithets. As he was rushed to his car, a beer can almost struck Mr. Dinkins. Mr. Gaspard saw a flash of anger on Mr. Dinkins’s face.
“I saw him breathe deeply, compose himself and wave to the crowd,” Mr. Gaspard said. “I know what he wanted to say and the response he wanted to give back but he was not going to debase himself or the office.”