Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Aram Goudsouzian

Committee Member

Scott P Marler

Committee Member

Sarah Potter

Committee Member

Stephen Stein


Charting the rise and fall of New York City’s first African American mayor, David Dinkins, this study provides insight into the complexities of governing and coalition-building in New York City during the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s. The rise of both identity and conservative politics shaped New York City during Dinkins’s 1989–1993 administration. Dinkins skillfully built a diverse and multiracial political coalition that first unseated three-term mayor Ed Koch in a Democratic primary and then beat Rudy Giuliani in the general election of 1989, only to see the coalition disintegrate in the following years. Dinkins’s rise and fall derived from the nature of his political coalition, a loose alliance of disparate elements in New York City’s electorate unified by their opposition first to Koch and then to Giuliani rather than a coherent unifying ideology. Dinkins’s struggles to deal with racial tension, crime and drug epidemics, the height of the AIDS crisis and activism, a secession movement in Staten Island, and a recession resulted in him losing his reelection bid in 1993. Analysis of Dinkins’s responses to five flashpoints in New York City’s political history illustrates ways in which Dinkins failed both to maintain his coalition and to expand his base of support. He struggled to address the often-conflicting demands of African Americans, Hispanics, ethnic whites (Jews, Italians, and Irish) in the outer boroughs, the LGBT community, and white liberals, leading to Giuliani’s victory. An examination of Dinkins’s mayoral term provides insight into the real or perceived failure of liberalism in the 1980s and 1990s to navigate the rise of identity and conservative politics. This study of Dinkins’s career elucidates the relationship between government policy, social activism, political coalition-building, and governance during an era when the base of the Democratic Party changed. This study also adds to the debate over the causes of the political realignment of the era and the effectiveness of social movements to effectuate political change.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest.


Embargoed until 4/12/2024