Mayor Bill de Blasio honored David Dinkins on Thursday, renaming a prominent Manhattan building after the former mayor while defending his political mentor's complicated legacy.
De Blasio renamed the Municipal Building, a grand, landmarked structure that sits at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and houses scores of government offices, including those belonging to Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James. It now also bears the name of Dinkins, the city's first African-American mayor, who was elected in 1989 and served one four-year term.
De Blasio repeatedly reminded the hundreds gathered for the dedication ceremony that "history still doesn't accurately identify what this mayor did for this city."
"When this mayor took office in 1990, this was not a safe city," de Blasio continued. "It just wasn't. And someone had to make the change."
In Dinkins' first year in office, more than 2,200 people were slain across the city. He fought for additional funding under the "Safe Streets, Safe City" name that allowed the city to hire more police officers, and homicides fell to 1,940 by 1993.
The homicide rate then plunged under Dinkins' successors, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, and fell to a record low 328 last year under de Blasio. De Blasio and other Dinkins allies have consistently argued that Dinkins has never received enough credit for hiring the police officers that they believe helped make the drop in crime possible.
Dinkins, now 88, was the last Democrat to be mayor until de Blaiso's election in 2013. De Blasio was a staffer in the Dinkins administration where he met his now-wife, Chirlane McCray, who was a speechwriter.
Dinkins, who defeated Giuliani in 1989 but lost a rematch four years later, was also hailed for securing a long-term lease for the U.S. Open tennis tournament, creating Fashion Week and aiding community organizations. His critics have slammed him for being a weak leader at the time of crisis, blaming him for the high crime rate and the Crown Heights riots.
The former mayor asked the crowd to keep his legacy alive and share his story.
"I know that a child will be born today, maybe at Bellevue Hospital or Harlem Hospital, perhaps the baby daughter of a Mexican or Dominican immigrant and God willing, she will go on to become mayor of this great city," Dinkins said. "She may ask, 'Who was David Dinkins?' And looking at this young, strong audience, I'm counting on you to explain our shared history."