Bill de Blasio saw it firsthand: the ambitious plans of a new Democratic mayor were largely derailed by escalating crime and a belief by New Yorkers that things had gotten totally out of control. Crack cocaine created an epidemic that engulfed the city and put crime at an all-time high in Dinkins' first year in office in 1990.
Crime dropped each year after that in Dinkins' mayoralty but perception trailed reality – and things weren't turning around quickly enough for many residents who were also infuriated by City Hall's handling of the Crown Heights riots in 1991. It's a rare thing in city politics but Dinkins became only the third sitting mayor since 1953 to lose re-election.
It seems that his time in the Dinkins administration has become a valuable lesson for de Blasio, who yesterday launched a police offensive in the city's housing projects, adding 700 new police officers to patrol its 334 developments – but focusing on 15 troubled complexes in particular.
Shootings are up in the projects by 31 percent this year – and while murders are still down in the city, there are already some high-profile crimes that are getting plenty of attention, playing into a ready-made narrative that a liberal from Park Slope can't be tough on crime.
Putting Bill Bratton in charge of the NYPD continues to be the mayor's public relations safety net – and the police commissioner is smartly putting 1,000 more cops on the street for the next 90 days to avoid a long, hot summer.
De Blasio needs to continue to play the law-and-order card. While Michael Bloomberg was hardly Batman, there was a belief that he was a technocrat who wasn't afraid to break eggs. Fair or not, de Blasio seems more like the guy who's worried about whether the eggs come from a cage-free chicken.
All of the mayor's other concerns – from expanding pre-K to liberating the carriage horses of Central Park – will be swallowed by crime should it actually increase. His push with the NYPD this summer shows he's a smart student of city history who doesn't want to follow in the footsteps of his old boss.