Medgar Evers College/CUNY and the entire New York City community mourn the passing of Mary Pinkett, who made history in November 1973 as the first African-American woman elected to the City Council.
In addition to her work on the City Council, Pinkett was proud to have served as the President of Social Service Employees Union Local 371. Her experiences as a labor advocate provided her with the determination and strength that marked her tenure in the City Council.
Representing District 35 (Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, parts of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant), Pinkett served as chair of the Civil Service and Labor Committee, as the first chair of the Committee on Aging, as chair of the Committee of Governmental Operations, and as a member of the Finance, Education, and Federal and State Legislation Committees. Throughout her career, she served with an unswerving sense of social justice and a dogged determination to achieve results.
A NYC Councilmember since 1974, Ms. Pinkett served in the City Council nearly twenty-seven years. She was proudest of her accomplishments in the development of Downtown Brooklyn, ensuring the inclusion of minority vendors in the project. She also focused her efforts on revitalizing housing, specifically in the Atlantic Village Housing in her area. During her service on the City Council, she rose to prominence as Chair of the Governmental Operations Committee.
When she first came to the City Council, Pinkett was assigned to the basement as a junior member.
AI sat near Bobby Wagner, Jr., Henry Stern, Stanley Steingut. Immediately I said, >We need better working conditions. We need money for staff. We need a union here.= I finally paid for a district office out of my own funds,@ Pinkett reported in a recent interview with Linda Schleicher of SSEU local 371.
As chair of the Civil Service and Labor Committee, Pinkett fought to improve working conditions and to halt privatization. Pinkett also fought for her community, securing many millions for projects in her district, including Medgar Evers College, many senior centers, and for programs in Bedford-Stuyvesant. AA lot of what I have done and who I am comes from my church experience and from trade unionsCworking with people for people. The most important thing is delivering services to the people you serve. And no one is going to give it to you. You have to stand up if you believe you are right.@
AWhen I went to the City Council, I was the first black woman and one of the only union representatives who had ever been elected,@ Pinkett told the publication AThe Unionist@ in January 2002. AThere were other women, but they were more traditional.@
SSEU Local 371 presented Councilmember Pinkett with a Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding service at the 1999 Black History Celebration. More recently, Medgar Evers College named a Lecture Hall in the new Student Support Services Building in memory of Councilmember Pinkett. She retired because of term limits in 2001. Her council, filled by James Davis, who was fatally shot by a political rival at City Hall this summer, is now held by Tish James.
She died Thursday, December 5, 2003 at age 77 and is survived by her husband, William, a retired NYC Board of Education administrator.