mayor david n. dinkins


The NYC Department of Records remembers Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

Nelson Mandela in New York:

Nelson Mandela’s first visit to New York City in June 1990 had a special resonance for David N. Dinkins, the City’s first African-American mayor. Imprisoned for 27 years in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, Mandela was released on February 11, 1990, and just four months later, on June 20, Dinkins feted him with a triumphant ticker-tape reception, the ultimate accolade for a job well-done.  Dinkins greeted Mandela at City Hall with great emotion:  “We welcome you with open arms and full hearts – as a leader, as a brother, as a friend, as an ally, and as a magnificent example of commitment, conviction and courage…. You have arrived in a city that for generations has welcomed people fleeing poverty and persecution, deprivation and oppression.”   Dinkins presented Mandela with the key to the City of New York:   “…. This is the key to freedom.  It represents the power of the people of this City pushing against doors that have been slammed shut far too long now…”.

During the second day of Mandela’s visit, on June 21, Dinkins brought him to a rally at the Harlem State Office Building on 125th Street, and later that evening he presented him to a vast cheering audience at Yankee Stadium.  Earlier in the day, a moving ecumenical service at Riverside Church in Manhattan buoyed the 71-year old leader.

Subsequently, Mandela made frequent visits to New York City.  In November 1991, Mandela hosted Mayor Dinkins during his visit to South Africa, and two weeks later, on December 2, 1991, Dinkins welcomed the civil-rights leader back to the City for an appearance at the United Nations General Assembly.  Mandela’s next trip to New York coincided with the Democratic National Convention in July 1992. 

In the following year, during the South Africa presidential election campaign, in June 1993, Nelson Mandela, running as the leader of the African National Congress party, and the lame-duck President, F. W. Klerk, both visited New York City – united for the moment in their desire to end the economic sanctions that were now crippling their nation.  They each encouraged American investment to boost the economy. 

Mandela made another trip to the City in September 1993, where he spoke before the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid: ” …we believe that the time has come when the international community should lift all economic sanctions against South Africa.”

In April 1994, Mandela won the presidency in South Africa’s first multiracial elections.  Later that year, in early October 1994, Mandela made his first visit to the City as President of South Africa. 

He returned once again in November 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.  Mayor Giuliani escorted the now-retired leader to Ground Zero.


Aug. 7, 1994: The Times reported on an expansion of hiring at the New York Police Department, which, although achieving the goal of bringing the force to more than 31,000 officers, had deviated from a community-based policing approach. Although Mayor David N. Dinkins had promised four years earlier that “the beat cop is back,” it was observed that “Officers are not being stationed on every subway train every night, as officials had pledged. Some beat officers are being dispersed over larger areas than they originally patrolled. … And many who were hired are not being used on specific beats.“ Photo: Monica Almeida/The New York Times


Nov. 12, 1993: A star to be placed atop the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center sat, on the printed page, alongside an article about Staten Islanders contemplating secession from New York City. Rather than rallying around the five-pointed symbol, New York voters were divided about their mayor — among other things — and thinking about shedding one of the five boroughs. “Had Staten Island not been part of New York City,” reported The Times, “Mayor Dinkins would have been re-elected on Nov. 2.” (Mayor David N. Dinkins lost to Rudolph W. Giuliani, thanks largely to the votes from Staten Island.) During the campaign, when one of Mayor Dinkins’s aides noted that Staten Island was swallowing more than $199 million more in services than it delivered in revenues, the idea of secession didn’t seem so bad. In the end, “It was the Mayor’s sentiment,” a deputy was quoted as saying, “that to save the city as the city, with all its symbolism and intangibles, we should find some other way to save the money.” Photo: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times