NEW YORK — Former NYC Mayor David Dinkins sat down with MSNBC’s Alex Witt on Saturday to talk about a range of issues, from America’s national debt to partisanship in Washington, and his hard fought battle to become the first black Mayor of New York City in 1989. Dinkins also had blunt observations about the role race plays in the partisan opposition to President Barack Obama, and he discussed his longstanding friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he said influenced his decision to support Hillary Clinton over Obama for president in 2008.
During the wide-ranging interview, Dinkins talked about enlisting in the Marines as a young man during World War II — a war for which he was later awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. He said that knowing he would be drafted right after high school, he “figured the way to survive was to be well trained.”
“I didn’t know anything about the Navy Seals or the Army Rangers. I don’t even know if they had them in that day. But I knew about the Marine Corps,” Dinkins said, calling enlisting “one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.” But Dinkins also criticized a later war — and regretted that the man he called his friend, Gen. Colin Powell, was given misleading information to deliver before the United Nations in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
And he said that unlike in his day, battles over politics don’t end when a particular skirmish is over.
“I don’t know why some of our elected officials behave the way they do,” Dinkins said of hyper-partisan politics in Washington. “It’s rather sad, frankly.”
Dinkins talked about his “hard-fought” race for Mayor back in 1989, when he beat Rudy Giuliani, “who you have to remember was not yet ‘America’s mayor,’” as Dinkins put it, “by the skin of my teeth.” And he talked about being the last elected Democratic mayor of New York.
Witt asked Dinkins to share his prediction about whether Hillary Clinton might run for president in 2016, and Dinkins said she could be a candidate. He talked about his long standing friendship with both Clintons, which he said was the reason he supported Hillary over then Senator Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary in 2008. Dinkins said some of his friends at the time asked him, “how can you support the lady against the brother? And I said friendship and loyalty. … I didn’t live in Illinois. I live in New York City, and she was my Senator.”
But the former mayor also praised President Obama as “a very accomplished political figure,” and “smart.”
Dinkins was asked about the level of opposition Obama has often faced from his political foes. “I think some degree of it has to be race, and it’s sad to see it but it’s a fact,” he said. “In my day we never thought we’d see a black mayor of New York City, much less president of the country, and there are some who still can’t stomach it, it seems.”
He also criticized his “friend Donald Trump with his birther nonsense, and his demand for [Obama's] birth certificate,” saying, “it’s ridiculous.”
Dinkins closed the interview by talking about the people he feels helped pave the way for his own historic achievement, becoming New York’s first black mayor.
“I supported Jesse Jackson [for president] in 1984 and ’88,” Dinkins said. “I recognize that I owe a large degree of my success not only to him but to others, particularly Percy Sutton who in 1977 said he was going to run for mayor. And I said really? A black man running for mayor?”
Watch the second part of the Alex Witt interview with former Mayor David Dinkins below.
And watch part three below, in which Dinkins discusses the legacy of the Crown Heights riots.