Former Mayor David Dinkins, who was in charge of the city when Nelson Mandela came to visit in 1990, called Nelson Mandela "the greatest figure of the century" upon reflecting on his death Thursday.
Dinkins was with many other New Yorkers closest to Mandela Thursday, as they were all gathered to memorialize former Deputy Mayor and political operative Bill Lynch, the man whose idea it was to invite Mandela to New York in 1990.
"The news reports earlier today said that he was a death's door, but still, you're never really ready. He was a friend, and each year, I'd send him a message on his birthday, which was in July, as is mine, and the message was always the same: 'Happy birthday, Madiba. When you're 109, I'll be 100, and we'll meet and have a drink," Dinkins said. "I won't be able to send that message anymore."
Dinkins reflected on his 23-year-friendship with Mandela, which began with his 1990 visit.
"He's a beautiful human being," Dinkins said. "Who but he and Archbishop Desmond Tutu could have conceived of and carried out the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? If that had been suggested by someone in lieu of the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, there'd have been World War III. But he had that capacity. An amazing human being. He's got to be, for me at least, the greatest figure of the century."
"He was an incredible inspiration to all of us who were just fighting apartheid in South Africa, but also fighting for racial justice in this country as well," said Gerald Hudson, executive vice president of the SEIU.
Patrick Gaspard, the new U.S. ambassador to South Africa, called those gathered at the memorial with the news, which was announced just as Dinkins was finished speaking.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was mayor when Mandela visited the city in 2005, released a statement following Mandela's death.
"When I presented Nelson Mandela with the Key to the City in 2005, he spoke passionately about the work of his foundation and his ongoing efforts to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic and many other important issues," Bloomberg's statement read, in part. "He devoted his life to building a more just, equal and compassionate world, and we are all better for it."
Former President Bill Clinton also released a statement.
"Today the world has lost one of its most important leaders and one of its finest human beings," Clinton's statement read, in part. "And Hillary, Chelsea and I have lost a true friend."
"All of us are living in a better world because of the life that Madiba lived," Clinton's statement goes on to say. "He proved that there is freedom in forgiving, that a big heart is better than a closed mind, and that life’s real victories must be shared.
Mandela's life had a profound effect on many, including members of New York's Congressional delegation, who remembered him as an inspiration to all nations.
"For him to be in jail for 27 years, and then, when I returned to his inauguration and saw him have as one of his honored guests the prison guard that kept him incarcerated, this is a quality most human beings don't even think that they're capable of," said Rep. Charles Rangel, whose district covers parts of Manhattan and the Bronx.
"He was a freedom fighter, but also a healer," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn. "He helped to liberate the nation of South Africa, but also bring people together of all races and religions and persuasions after a very divisive history."
Bloomberg ordered flags on all city buildings to be lowered at half-staff.