Columbia University Professor Ester Fuchs Fondly Remembers Her Friend and Colleague David Dinkins

Nov 27, 2020

Columbia Professor Ester R. Fuchs
Credit Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs

For many years Ester R. Fuchs’ office was right next to David Dinkins’ office at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. Fuchs is Professor of Public Affairs and Political Science there.

Dr. Fuchs also worked in the Michael Bloomberg administration from 2001 to 2005.

The self-described Pragmatic Utopian spoke to WBGO News Director Doug Doyle via Zoom about her friendship and respect for New York's first and only black mayor.

Professor Fuchs says when Dinkins taught at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs he brought his wealth of experience and knowledge into the classroom.

"He continued to use his position and authority just to improve people's lives.  So when he taught, he brought all kinds of people in the classroom so students could see the opportunity for them to come into public service and to do something really valuable.  He was not in politics for any personal gain.  He really was a public servant."

Dr. Fuchs, who is the author of Mayors and Money: Fiscal Policy in New York and Chicago, says Mayor Dinkins was in office during extremely turbulent times in New York City.

"In the 1990's things were tough.  Crime was high.  There was a crack epidemic.  Race relations were a tinderbox which is why people elected David Dinkins to begin with.  And we had a fiscal crisis and the beginnings of a homeless crisis and an AIDS crisis.  He had all of that on his agenda."

Columbia Professor Ester R. Fuchs chats via Zoom with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle
Credit Zoom/Doug Doyle

Professor Fuchs says what's also important is that Dinkins' work didn't stop when he left office.

"He actually accomplished a lot in his short period of being Mayor, only one term.  He needs to be put in the right perspective, his leadership both during his mayoralty and when he left the mayoralty, which I believe is equally as important.   He supported endless numbers of charitable institutions.  People think he dressed up in tuxedos and he was so elegant.  He went out and did the work, allowing organizations to use his name and showing up.  He was a big supporter of Association to Benefit Children in Harlem where he was on the board for many years."

When it came to the Crown Heights riots in 1991, Dr. Fuchs says her friend was extremely hurt by those who turned on him after that incident.

"While he was personally upset and took responsibility in the end for what had happened, riots as we know now since we've recently experience many, are a very complicated thing to control.  He was very much hurt by the criticism tha the let the riots go on and that he didn't care about the Jewish community.  He was a strong supporter of the Jewish community before he became mayor and a strong supporter of the State of Israel.  It was deeply painful to him that he was accused of that.  That was a part of the Guiliani poison campaign of dividing people against each other."

Fuchs currently serves as Director of Who’sOnTheBallot.org, an online platform working to increase voter participation and education in New York City elections.

You can hear the entire conversation and find out more about Dr. Fuchs' career and her time in the Bloomberg administration by clicking at the top of the page.