Bill Lynch: Political Trailblazer - Trailblazer Week


By Tanya Silverman

Riverside Church, where Bill Lynch’s funeral was held. Photo courtesy of BriYYZ.

Bill Lynch passed away on Aug. 9, 2013 at age 72. Often known for being the force behind the 1989 election of New York City’s first and only African American mayor, David N. Dinkins, this well-recognized political strategist was the son of a Long Island potato farmer. In 1999, he formed his own political consulting firm, Bill Lynch Associates.

Throughout his years, Lynch worked with a wide array of politicians, from Jesse Jackson, to Ted Kennedy, to David Paterson, and is credited as a mentor to countless others like Patrick Gaspard, who Obama recently nominated as ambassador to South Africa.

Lynch was involved in both Bill and Hillary Clinton’s respective presidential races, and also served as the vice-chair to the Democratic National Committee.  He worked on national campaigns, like John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid, and internationally, Lynch spent time advising Nelson Mandela during the period when South Africa was transitioning out of apartheid.

Bill Lynch. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

LaMon Bland, the National Field Director of National Action Network, worked as a Senior Associate at Lynch’s firm. Though he was deeply saddened by Bill Lynch’s death, Bland proudly acknowledges this figure’s significant influence on his own career.

“I hope that I’m able to support young people the way that he did,” Bland reflects. “If you got a chance to work with Bill Lynch, he would allow you to sit in on high-level meetings and he would tell the client, ‘That person is with me, and anything you can say to me, you can say to that person.’”

Lynch was empowering and Bland admired the way he allowed young people to learn and develop. This political strategist would encourage his up-and-coming colleagues to execute their plans, even if they would not work, and even if they ran into conflict with other officials.

“He really got me to pay attention to details, but also focus on the big picture, which helped me move into the role that I’m in now,” says Bland. “I don’t think I would be as successful as I have been at NAN had it not been for Bill Lynch’s teachings.”

Bertha Lewis, the President and Founder of the Black Institute, attended Bill Lynch’s funeral at Riverside Church.

“I thought it was a very fitting case, because Riverside has never shied away from politics or the political,” says Lewis, adding that Martin Luther King spoke there in the past and that the ceremony was very moving.

The physical space of the church, which Lewis describes as “magnificent,” was completely filled; other attendees included the Reverend Al Sharpton, David Dinkins, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and several New York City mayoral candidates.

Lewis is also the former CEO and chief organizer of the now-defunct ACORN group. She still recalls when this grassroots organization was in the public spotlight for controversy.

“When I was in the middle of the ACORN storm… Bill called me and said, ‘Are you okay? Do you need anything?’” says Lewis. “I remember him saying to me, ‘All you have to do is stand.’”

She considers Lynch one of the people that helped her get through that trying time. Though ACORN disbanded, Lewis went on to form the Black Institute.

In her years of political action and organizing, Lewis attributes many of her skills to what she learned from Lynch. When asked what Lynch taught her specifically, she immediately answers: “To know how to count.”

She explains that Bill Lynch informed her that campaigns are about the numbers. He had a way of scaling electoral districts to understand how many people to reach out to, and understanding how many actual votes would be possible. Lewis learned that, as an organizer, “you couldn’t talk a good game. You couldn’t just say there were ‘lots of people’ there. You needed to know exactly what the numbers were.”

Another notable factor of Lynch’s legacy, according to Lewis, is that “he made elected office something that young people of color wanted to pursue.” Also that Lynch recognized people across America had to help prepare African Americans to hold public office from local to state government. Looking to the future, Lewis hopes that Lynch’s political architecture techniques, like the David Dinkins campaign, will be emphasized in political science courses.

Through all of his heavy involvement, long work days (typically fifteen hours), and continual influence on others, it is hard to believe that Lynch was very ill.

“His health deteriorated over the years — and I don’t think most of us could have bore what he bore, but he was just too stubborn to leave,” says Lewis.

She explains he still worked and held political meetings while being hooked up to a dialysis machine three times a week (for instance, while working on John Liu’s mayoral campaign this year).

Though he was aging physically, Lewis recounts how even in his elderly state, she was impressed by how Lynch was able to keep up with innovative new technology, and even debate with young people about obscure hip-hop artists.

Though ultimately, kidney failure brought the story of Bill Lynch’s life to a close, memories of the man remain strong.

“I always knew who he was and I knew what it meant to walk up to 208 Lenox Avenue [to Bill Lynch Associates] and walk up those stairs,” LaMon Bland says.