David N. Dinkins was inaugurated as New York’s 106th and first black mayor Monday, pledging during historic ceremonies to be the toughest mayor ever on crime and dedicating his Administration to the troubled children of the nation’s largest city.
“I stand before you today as the elected leader of the greatest city of a great nation, to which my ancestors were brought, chained and whipped in the hold of a slave ship,” Dinkins told a crowd of thousands gathered in front of City Hall. “We have not finished the journey toward liberty and justice, but surely we have come a long way.”
” . . . I offer this fundamental pledge: I intend to be the mayor of all the people of New York,” the 62-year-old chief executive said, coupling that promise with implied criticism of his predecessor, Edward I. Koch, who looked on with three other former city mayors, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Also present were black Mayors W. Wilson Goode of Philadelphia, Marion Barry of Washington and Sharpe James of Newark, who came to honor Dinkins.
“This Administration will never lead by dividing, by setting some of us against the rest of us or by favoring one group over others,” Dinkins said in a thinly veiled reference to Koch, who sat impassively and later gave a gracious welcoming speech. “This Administration will redefine the relationship between City Hall and our local neighborhoods and communities . . . . We will empower people and we will respect the need for neighborhood stabilization.”
Dinkins set the treatment of children as a major benchmark by which he will judge the success of his Administration.
“I hereby dedicate the Dinkins Administration to the children of New York,” he said. “And the measure if whether I fulfill my mandate will be how we treat those who start out in life during my tenure at City Hall.
“As we join together in this pageant of progress and democracy, there is, this morning, somewhere in this city, a child born addicted to crack, a child suffering from AIDS, a child beaten down by the deprivation of poverty, a child abandoned, a child forgotten, a child whose dream has already been denied.
“No matter how rich and powerful we become, we cannot be satisfied when so many children experience the sunset of opportunity at the very dawn of their existence.”
However, Dinkins coupled that vision with the fiscal realities that New York City faces--a budget deficit estimated at $1 billion.
“I recognize that we cannot do everything we should, that our finances may get worse before they get better, that for now our dreams are bigger than our budget,” he told the crowd, which stretched from the front of City Hall into a nearby park.
“We must assure our long-term fiscal stability. We face difficult times ahead. And we will make the difficult choices. The sacrifices will be shared--and shared fairly. As a city, we cannot live beyond our means, but we will never be mean-spirited.”
New York’s new mayor left little doubt about one priority--crime.
“Most of all, we must reaffirm the rule of law, fight back against the pushers and muggers and take back our streets, our subways and our parks, by night as well as day. Let me say again what I said so often during the campaign: I intend to be the toughest mayor on crime this city has ever seen.”
In spirit and tone, the inauguration was designed to stress inclusiveness--a principal theme of Dinkins’ successful election campaign.
A Korean traditional dance group performed, as did the Gay Men’s Choir, which sang “New York, New York.” Harry Belafonte, the actor and singer, was master of ceremonies. Opera singer Marilyn Horne sang the National Anthem. Cardinal John J. O’Connor delivered the benediction and Tutu presented remarks, which were marked by a brief scare.
Most protesters against O’Connor and Tutu were kept across Broadway from City Hall by a large police contingent. But, as the South African clergyman extolled Dinkins’ victory as a sign of victory in South Africa, a water balloon, apparently dropped from a window or balcony of City Hall, struck Jose Rivera, a city councilman from the Bronx, in the face.
Rivera almost fell from his seat in the back of the platform but was uninjured. Police officers took him inside the building, where he dried off before returning to the ceremonies.
Tutu apparently was unaware of the incident, and no arrests were reported. ACT UP, a gay rights advocacy organization, had pledged protests against O’Connor’s position on abortion and AIDS, and at least one Jewish group had promised opposition to Tutu for criticizing Israel’s actions against Palestinians.
AIDS activists, some of whom last month disrupted church services by O’Connor in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, stood in silent protest near the platform when O’Connor delivered his brief benediction.
Dinkins, a former Manhattan borough president, takes office facing a host of challenges. He was actually sworn in just past midnight at the Bronx home of Judge Fritz Alexander, a former law partner.
The major problems--the crime, crack and AIDS epidemics, the budget deficit, homelessness, a badly strained municipal hospital system, upcoming union negotiations, inadequate schools and housing, roads and bridges in need of repair, child abuse and disintegrating family life--are well known. Others are more subtle.
For example, Lee P. Brown, the former Houston police commissioner whom Dinkins picked to head New York’s Police Department, will find major difficulties in addition to a rising crime rate.
Law enforcement experts say that the department faces a lack of skilled top commanders, a legacy of the fiscal crisis in the 1970s, when many promising policemen who might have reached top ranks took retirement. Because of the high cost of living and overtime restrictions, many policemen are forced to hold second jobs and are unable to devote full attention to fighting crime.
Dinkins’ appointments so far have included new faces, members of his staff as Manhattan borough president and some familiar figures in the Koch Administration.
First Deputy Mayor Norman J. Steisel, a former sanitation commissioner under Koch, is well respected and was a strong contender for the top assistant’s post had Koch been reelected.
Bill Lynch, deputy mayor for administration, a Dinkins confidant who served as his campaign manager, is regarded as a perceptive and skilled organizer. Mark Green, commissioner of consumer affairs, is an energetic political activist with long ties to Ralph Nader. Corporation Counsel Victor A. Kovner, the city’s top lawyer, is a longtime Dinkins political supporter.
Municipal officials with long experience at City Hall say that the administrative environment Dinkins creates for his appointees will be crucial as his mayoralty unfolds.
His Administration brings for many New Yorkers the hope of a kinder city with better race relations. Dinkins has a deliberately calmer style than his predecessor, stressing courtliness and manners. Supporters are fond of saying his style encourages consensus; detractors argue it can result at times in snail’s pace government, with decisions delayed unnecessarily.
Many politicians believe the Dinkins Administration will resemble in style the administration of former Mayor Robert F. Wagner, when committees proliferated and decisions often were postponed. That style served Wagner, who attended the inauguration with former Mayors John V. Lindsay and Abraham D. Beame, well in a city with fewer problems.
Three decades later, when crises are chronic, the success of a deliberative style, when other top elected municipal officials have their own ambitions and agendas, remains uncertain.