David Dinkins, who served as New York City’s first and only African American mayor during the 1990s, died on Monday at the age of 93, police said.
His death appeared to be of natural causes, Detective Adam Navarro of the city’s police department told Reuters.
Born in 1927 in Trenton, New Jersey, Dinkins attended Howard University and Brooklyn Law School.
He eventually came to Harlem, the historically black neighborhood in upper Manhattan, where he rose in the ranks of local politics.
“For decades, Mayor Dinkins lead with compassion and an unparalleled commitment to our communities,” state attorney general Letitia James said in a statement. “New York will mourn Mayor Dinkins and continue to be moved by his towering legacy.”
In Harlem, Dinkins formed part of a group of black power brokers, known as the “Gang of Four,” that included Congressman Charles Rangel, Percy Sutton, and Basil Paterson, the father of future New York Governor David Paterson.
Dinkins defeated the three-term incumbent Democrat Mayor Ed Koch and Republican prosecutor Rudy Giuliani in the 1989 mayoral race.
Giuliani, who would come back to defeat Dinkins four years later, was among the first to pay tributes.
“I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Mayor David Dinkins, and to the many New Yorkers who loved and supported him,” Giuliani said on Twitter. “He gave a great deal of his life in service to our great City.”
New York, during Dinkins’ term, was battling high crime, a fierce economic recession, and the AIDS epidemic.
But it was his role in the 1991 Crown Heights riot that would most define his mayoralty.
The riot was sparked in the racially divided Brooklyn neighborhood by the acquittal of a young black man, Lemrick Nelson, in the killing of Yankel Rosenbaum, a 29-year-old Jewish student.
Speaking in 2011, Dinkins remembered his handling of the riot as one of his chief regrets.
“The thing that hurt the most, I suppose, was to be accused by some of permitting—holding the police back—and permitting young blacks to attack Jews,” Dinkins said, according to the New York Times.
“And this was untrue, inaccurate and not so, and that’s kind of painful. But if I had it to do over again, I would have said maybe 24 hours earlier to the police, ‘What you’re doing isn’t working,’ which I finally said.”