Beyond Politics in Black and White

Beyond Politics in Black and White

On November 2, 1993, Rudolph Giuliani defeated David Dinkins to become New York City’s third Republican mayor in this century. Although the 1993 election closely paralleled the 1989 race between the two, small shifts in turnout and preference produced a large difference in the outcome. Disappointingly low turnout among African-American voters and a decline in support among other groups defeated Dinkins, the city’s first African-American mayor, after only one term. Dinkins did not lose the election only because of his weak performance in minority and white liberal neighborhoods, however, but also because white voters living outside Manhattan turned out in large numbers and favored Giuliani. By mobilizing white Catholic and Jewish supporters and broadening his base just enough, Giuliani revitalized the conservative political alignment fashioned by Ed Koch in the 1980s.

Mayor Dinkins’s term was marked by persistent inter-group conflict in Washington Heights, the Korean grocery boycott in East Flatbush, and the Crown Heights clash between blacks and Hasidic Jews. Viewing these events and the daily life of the city through the lens of a severe recession, the electorate concluded that the condition of the neighborhoods was worsening, the homeless, panhandlers, and squeegee men were threatening public spaces, and that the mayor was not handling these matters with the authority they wanted. Most of all, voters thought the city was growing more dangerous, and saw street crime as the major issue in the race. Although Dinkins had put thousands of new cops on the beat and could point to a lessening of the violent crime rate in recent years, the media relentlessly focused on the innocent kids felled by drive-by shootings or the death of a dedicated Red Hook school principal caught in a crossfire between drug dealers. In retrospect, the narrow margin of Dinkin’s loss is a testament to the persistence of white liberalism in New York.