On April 26, 2023, Staff Writer Maya Reisner virtually attended the 24th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum.

On Wednesday, April 26, the 24th annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum was held, titled “Continuing the Dinkins Legacy of Public Safety.” The forum welcomed New York City Mayor Eric Adams to speak about his administration’s policies on public safety, followed by a forum with the former mayor of Philadelphia and current Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, Michael A. Nutter. The forum was moderated by Ester Fuchs, SIPA professor of International and Public Affairs and Political Science, and Director of the Urban and Social Policy Program. 

The forum opened with an introduction by Keren Yarhi-Milo, the Dean of SIPA, as she reminisced on late mayor Dinkin’s policies and commitment to the betterment of New York City. At the center of Yarhi-Milo’s speech was Dinkin’s passion for global challenges, and how he tackled them by starting at the local level. She named several of his goals for the city, including making the city eco-friendly, inclusivity through basic services such as housing and food availability, and innovation in safety measures such as bringing cops back into the communities to reduce crime in New York City neighborhoods. 

Following Yarhi-Milo’s speech, a video of Dinkin’s 1990 inaugural address was played. In his speech, Dinkins pledges to be the mayor of all people, protecting all of his constituents through measures such as rights for the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and other marginalized groups that often go unprotected by the legal system. He urges that while the budget for the city is not enough to fulfill his goals, dreams must never be forgotten. On the topic of public safety, Dinkins says, “I intend to be the toughest mayor on crime the city has ever seen…Lawlessness is as unacceptable in the government as it is on the streets and will not be tolerated in this administration.” This is followed by a call to action, as Dinkins states that freedom from crime is a civil right and that all civilians must join community anti-crime groups, fight for anti-drug education in schools, and take responsibility as parents to raise their children and deter them from futures of crime and drug use. In his final words, he dedicates his administration to the children of New York City, saying that the measure of his success will be the outcomes of the children growing up during his time as mayor. 

The next speaker was Michael A. Nutter, former mayor of Philadelphia and current professor at SIPA. He expanded on Yarhi-Milo’s words on Dinkins, sharing details about his childhood and the hardships he faced growing up impoverished in Harlem. Shifting his focus to public safety, Nutter described many of Dinkins’ policies, citing his Safe Streets Safe City Program and his hiring of more police officers than any previous mayor, leading to the decline of crime in NYC. He then introduced Mayor Adams, sharing how Adams was born in Brooklyn and lived in a tenement before moving to Jamaica, Queens, and his education and work prior to becoming mayor. 

In his opening remarks, Mayor Eric Adams asked the audience, now standing and applauding, to sit down, saying “one rule, you don’t stand for me, I stand for you.” Adams continued by saying that not only did he know of Dinkins, John Lewis, and Paul Robeson, but they guided him personally through his life and career. As for his position as mayor, he explained that he is “not new to this, but true to this.” Adams then moved on to his public safety policy, referencing his 50 million dollar budget for public safety measures, a cause that he highlighted throughout his campaign and is now determined to follow through on, enacting the changes he promised. To combat crime, he emphasizes his use of police to support public safety without abusive policing acts, citing that the efficiency of expanding the police force was proven during Dinkins’ time as mayor with the decrease in homicides. 

Next came the panel discussion Ester Fuchs, Mayor Adams, and former Mayor Nutter. Opening the panel, Fuchs inquired further about Adams’ programs at the community level that are addressing the need to balance keeping our neighborhoods safe while also respecting the people on the streets. Adams responded with a metaphor originating from Desmond Tutu, explaining that rather than having a downstream mind, profiting off of pulling offenders out of jail, his administration is focused on having an upstream approach, addressing the lack of education and poverty that feed into crime. He cited specific actions such as screening for dyslexia (which he personally struggles with), mental health care, and paid tuition for college or technical training for foster children in tandem with a stipend and support until the age of 26. 

Being asked if he has any advice for Adams, former mayor Nutter explained that for African American mayors, dealing with crime is a greater challenge. To the mayor, he asserted that Adams’ job was not to make people happy, but rather to keep them safe. Nutter then inquired into Adams’ approach to public safety. Adams went on to explain that he was going to do exactly what he promised on his campaign trail. So far, he says, he has taken 9,000 guns off the street, put in place proper policing for offenders, and staffed his team with people who were not only academically adept but also emotionally intelligent. He added, “If you aren’t someone who has gone through a lot, you can’t help people who are going through a lot.” Following a similar question from Fuchs, he elaborated further, detailing how his team walks through the streets to see the reality of his constituents, which he places into three categories: people in a state of despair who need corrective help, people on the verge, and people who want to do the right thing but lack the information to act in that manner. Adams explained that to him, these problems are not one-dimensional, and must be addressed through police, mental health professionals, educators, and other individuals who are given the right resources to address these societal issues. 

Adams’ closing statements before he had to leave for another engagement explained what he thought were his biggest successes. He said, “I have so many,” before proudly stating a double-digit decrease in shooters and homicides, investments in employment and youth, and that people will look back on his administration and see commitment, compassion, and competence. 

Continuing the panel in his absence, Fuchs inquired about what Nutter believes are the most important challenges NYC is facing. Pensively, Nutter replied that beyond public safety and crime, affordable housing and the climate are issues to watch. He proclaimed that a mayor needs to wake up every day thinking they can change the lives and direction of the people in their city, despite inadequate funding and the many hurdles they will inevitably face. Wrapping up the forum, Nutter asserted that we, the American people, have to demand better. Gun laws, he said, must become the focus of the Democratic party, and to achieve it, the party must be focused, dedicated, and relentless like the Republicans were about reversing Roe v. Wade over the last 50 years. 

For anyone interested in watching the forum, a link was sent to Barnard and Columbia emails where you can view it in its entirety.

Dinkins Forum at Columbia SIPA, Photo Credit Eileen Barroso, found on SIPA website