Mayor David Dinkins always had time for children, stooping to speak with them at their eye level and leaving them with this parting message.
“He would always end it, ‘You know, you can be mayor because look at me,’” said former aide Mark Benoit.
“He would tell them you can become mayor, too," said Mayor de Blasio, also a former aide.
Allies and peers are mourning Dinkins’ death, recalling a gentle and generous man.
For those whose job it was to keep him on a schedule, his fondness for young people was exasperating, but endearing.
“If it was one kid, it is were five kids, or 50 kids, everything would screech to a halt. It just showed the heart of the man," said Benoit, who was Dinkins' director of scheduling.
Dinkins was a champion of diversity, building an administration reflecting the city’s "gorgeous mosaic."
He was the city’s first — and thus far — only Black mayor.
He named Betsy Gotbaum the city’s first woman parks commissioner.
She recalled that he empowered his aides, remembering that he once stood up for her in front of then-Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
“It gives you the confidence to know that you can run an agency," she said.
And Dinkins named Lee P. Brown — another Black leader — as his police commissioner.
Brown says the mayor saw public safety as a collective responsibility.
“That’s why his major program was Safe Streets, Safe Cities, which involved other city agencies in the mission of making New York City a safer place to live," Brown said.
While his peers credit him with driving down crime, they also say his lack of forcefulness in incidents such as the Crown Heights riots may have limited him to one term.
“I think he was persuaded, which was his wont, to be calmer, to kind of lay back and to not make a decision to go out and be aggressive," Gotbaum said. "And that may have been a problem, that may have been one of the reasons that he wasn’t reelected.”
Former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger praised him for creating the NYPD’s Civilian Complaint Review Board.
And just as those close to him remembered Dinkins’ line encouraging young people in their first years of life, Messinger recalled the quote he used at funerals sending people off.
“He would say, ‘Service to others is the rent we pay for our time on Earth,’" she said. "By that standard, this person has left this Earth paid in full.”