Widening scandal in N.Y.C.. Tale of corruption reads like dime store novel; New Yorkers wonder how it will treat Koch
New York — As new waves of information and resignations come from the investigation of New York City's Parking Violations Bureau, a call for tougher anticorruption measures has been heard from many quarters. Mayor Edward I. Koch has legal advisers developing anticor-ruption legislation, working with counsel from Gov. Mario M. Cuomo's office.
State Senate majority leader Warren Anderson, calling the scandal ``the furthest thing from good government,'' says he wants to see anti-corruption proposals from Mayor Koch as soon as possible.
Currently the scandal reads like a dime-store novel. Queens Borough president Donald Manes is found injured in a city car late at night; it is later revealed that the wounds were self-inflicted.
An attorney-cum-collection-agency executive with political friends in high places leaks a story of bribery and extortion to brash New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin just before going to federal authorities. The story implicates Mr. Manes in the Parking Violations Bureau scandal.
New York's outspoken Koch calls Manes a friend one day and a crook a few days later. Governor Cuomo upbraids the mayor for his hasty comments, telling him that if he has actual proof that Manes acted illegally, he should bring it forward. But Cuomo also works to urge Manes out of office.
And the investigations being conducted by two US attorneys, the Manhattan district attorney, and the New York state attorney general, continue to widen -- including talk of possible corruption among Queens judges and political leaders.
The city's Department of Investigation is reviewing how the city's Environmental Control Board (ECB) awards its contracts. According to New York Newsday, federal agents are also investigating a collection agency that works for ECB.
And a flood of scrutiny by the press has brought up such charges as Manes urging a hospital working for the city to consider his wife for a job. Another report tells of a loan for a vacation home that looked ``advantageous.''
But while New Yorkers follow the scandal with devotion -- the once popular organized-crime trials are taking a distant back seat -- the real question is how can such corruption, stemming from lucrative city contracts given with lots of discretion, be avoided?
City political observers are also watching closely the effect the scandal will have on Mayor Koch, who has long boasted of an honest administration free of overt patrongage.
Many political observers do not think Koch knew of the corruption that appears to have been going on. But the fact that it went on under his nose is troubling to some.
Koch's response has been to reexamine city ethics laws and to consider barring county political leaders from doing business with the city.
He has also canceled one contract with a firm with ties to a county leader and more or less forced the resignation of Transportation Commissioner Anthony Ameruso. He is the highest-ranking official in Koch's administration to fall in the wake of the corruption investigation so far.
Although Mr. Ameruso has not been implicated in any of the scandals, Koch has long had a policy of giving commissioners authority to hire and fire deputies, but he holds them responsible for any wrongdoing.
Many in the city believe that Koch acted unethically when he called Manes a crook, and charged that the borough president (recouperating at his home from his wounds and a heart attack that followed his attempted suicide) should go to jail.
New York University law Prof. Steve Gillers points out that Koch appoints judges who may sit at a trial of Manes. How could they be considered totally impartial, when the man who appoints them has delivered a judgment, he asks.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has considered filing a complaint against Koch at the New York State Bar, citing a violation of a code of conduct [Koch is a lawyer]. But Gillers says any hearing would be conducted in confidence unless it is referred to the courts.
The current scandal revolves around an investigation begun last summer by US Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, who received information about possible payoffs in the Parking Violations Bureau through a Federal Bureau of Investigation undercover informer in Chicago.
This week Manes stepped aside as borough president, using a clause in the city charter that specifies that he can do that if he is sick or absent. He also took a leave as head of the Queens Democratic Party. It is thought that he will resign from both posts soon.