Remembering Mayor David Dinkins

November 24, 2020

USTA Eastern mourns the loss of former New York Mayor David N. Dinkins, who passed away November 23 at the age of 93. Dinkins served as the top city executive from 1990 to 1994 and was the first—and to date, only—Black man to hold that position. A major proponent of tennis, Dinkins was a fixture at the US Open each year and served on the board of the USTA after his time as mayor. He was particularly passionate about the National Junior Tennis & Learning network and the USTA Foundation and even hosted the winners of the NJTL Essay Contest at his own home for many years. Dinkins—who had been introduced to NJTLs through Arthur Ashe—worked incredibly closely with the New York Junior Tennis and Learning (NYJTL) up until his passing.


In 1990, USTA Eastern’s Junior Tennis Foundation named a scholarship in his honor; young tennis players in the city still receive the scholarship every year at the USTA Eastern Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Mayor Dinkins himself was inducted into the USTA Eastern Hall of Fame in 1993 and received the Tennis Man of the Year Award in 1991.


“Mayor Dinkins has made innumerable contributions to tennis and his work will support so many children in the years ahead,” said USTA Eastern Executive Director and CEO Jenny Schnitzer. “Beyond the sport, however, Mayor Dinkins was an incredibly friendly, thoughtful and kind-hearted presence. We are thinking of his family during the difficult time.”


Dinkins' wife, Joyce, whom he married in 1953, passed away earlier this year on October 11.


Above, Dinkins poses with the 2015 recipients of the annual scholarship that bears his name. Below, we have re-published the feature written by Nancy Gill McShea in honor of Mayor Dinkins’ 1993 induction.


David N. Dinkins (Originally published in 1993)

By Nancy Gill McShea


The Honorable David N. Dinkins, perhaps the City’s most visible tennis fan and recreational player and the 106th Mayor of the City of New York, was inaugurated on January 1, 1989 with the pledge to make the streets safer, offer children more hope and opportunity and secure the City’s fiscal stability, among other high hopes.


Despite assuming this office during very difficult times, the Mayor has given the people of New York compassionate and effective leadership. And considering his high profile, it is not surprising that he advances some of his favorite causes as a volunteer for the sport he loves. 


Conveniently, the Mayor has also been advised—under doctor’s orders—to play the sport he loves five times a week! Singles, of course. Since taking over as mayor, he has reportedly raised his game one whole level by adding a topspin backhand to his repertoire and becoming much more aggressive and powerful on the forehand side. His regular tennis opponents understandably view his new prowess with a certain envy, but they admit that the ability to improve one’s game so dramatically, in one’s sixties, is consistent with being an effective mayor in New York City. 


Besides, as his friend David Markin points out, “Not every great man has a topspin backhand.”


Among the Mayor’s proudest accomplishments are those that improve the quality of life for the City’s most vulnerable people, especially children. During his tenure, he has instituted a comprehensive criminal justice program: Safe Streets, Safe City.  The youth component of the plan helps prevent crime by giving young people new opportunities for learning and recreation. Nowhere is that ideal more evident than in the Mayor’s enthusiastic support of junior tennis programs in the metropolitan area. He is praised often for publicizing his belief that tennis offers children a healthy, positive alternative to the dangers of the street.


In 1990, Eastern’s Junior Tennis Foundation added a scholarship in the Mayor’s name to the awards agenda at this annual Hall of Fame celebration, which is also the sole fund raiser for the ETA’s junior programs. Part of the funds benefit children in the inner city who might otherwise never have a chance to learn the game. The Mayor has thoroughly enjoyed presenting two scholarships each year to two deserving youngsters from among the City’s tennis programs: the Department of Parks and Recreation, Pyramid Tennis and the Harlem and New York Junior Tennis Leagues (NYJTL).


The Mayor not only supports these programs as a matter of principle, he regularly joins the children on tennis courts throughout the City decked out in the insignia jackets of his favorites -- at Eastern/USTA schools programs, pro-celebrity clinics, awards ceremonies such as the NYJTL-sponsored Mayor’s Cup All-Scholastic Championships, and at fund raisers.


In 1991, when he was honored as the ETA’s “Tennis Man of the Year,” the Mayor reiterated his faith in the inherent goodness of children. “There are highly publicized situations regarding problem kids,” he said that evening. “People think all kids are like that today. Well, they’re not. Most youngsters are good and kind and wonderful and fair.”


He has also fostered a positive image for New York nationally and worldwide through special events, which bring additional revenue to the City. The City hosted the successful 1992 Democratic National Convention and plans are underway to bring the 1998 Goodwill Games to New York. Moreover, the Mayor has enthusiastically supported the USTA’s plan to improve and modernize the US Open site at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to ensure that the Open remains the world’s pre-eminent Grand Slam tennis tournament. 


The Mayor knows all too well that New York City needs a world-class economy to thrive and he has taken aggressive steps to invest in business and build the City’s economic base. Part of that effort has included trying to expand economic opportunities for small businesses. In fact this past January, the Mayor attended the official opening of the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club, a new privately-owned tennis facility, in recognition of small business development in the City.


Mayor Dinkins was born in Trenton, N.J., on July 10, 1927, and began his career in public service in 1966 as a N.Y. State Assemblyman. He was president of the Board of Elections from 1972-1973, served as the City Clerk from 1975-1985 and as the Manhattan Borough President from 1985-1989. He is a graduate of Howard University and Brooklyn Law School, and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He and his wife Joyce have two children: David, Jr., and Donna Hoggard; a grandson, Jamal; and a granddaughter, Kalila.


During warm celebrations such as these, the Mayor’s charming personality and warm sense of humor shine through—even at his expense.  At last year’s Hall of Fame dinner he told a story about driving through Harlem with Joyce. They saw a street sweeper who was also one of Joyce’s former boyfriends. The Mayor said, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t marry him?” To which Joyce replied,”…I’m not so sure because if I had married him he’d be the Mayor.”

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