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Dinkins rose through the Democratic Party organization in Harlem and became part of an influential group of African-American politicians that included Denny Farrell Percy Sutton Basil Paterson and Charles Rangel; the latter three together with Dinkins were known as the "Gang of Four". He served as President of the Board of Elections from 1972 to 1973 and City Clerk from 1975 to 1985. Another was a strong turnout for Giuliani in Staten Island; the Dinkins administration opposed a referendum on Staten Island's secession from New York.
Before entering politics Dinkins served in the US Marine Corps graduated from Howard University and Brooklyn Law School. He served as Deputy Mayor before becoming mayor. He was the first and is to date the only African American to hold that office.