Weight of scandal prevents Mayor Koch from forging ahead. Investigation likely to focus on Bronx after Manes suicide
New York — In the two months since corruption charges have been made public here, city government has staggered more than moved straight forward. The suicide of former Queens Borough President Donald Manes last week brought a sad twist to the city's biggest corruption scandal in decades.
New Yorkers reacted with shock over the death of Mr. Manes, who was under investigation by federal authorities. Some sources say he likely would have been indicted this week for his alleged involvement in an extortion ring at the city's Parking Violations Bureau. Manes had apparently attempted suicide Jan. 10, just before the scandal broke.
As the focus of the scandal widens, Mayor Koch finds himself sidetracked from third-term initiatives.
The city's political landscape is changing rapidly. Over 20 officials have left city government since Koch began his third term. Many of the recent resignations have been related to the scandal, rather than to Koch's own original plans to rework staff. Legislative proposals, debate, and soul-searching -- as well as investigations by any number of law-enforcement agencies -- continue.
``The mayor is trying to be above it all and in control, but I wonder whether his insistence on being an outsider wasn't in a sense a tacit approval of what went on,'' says one political observer. Koch has said in the past that he would tolerate a certain amount of dealing between government officials and local political leaders, in the interest of maintaining good relationships. But he has also insisted that he is not a part of this process.
Though a recent New York Times/WCBS poll shows over half of all New Yorkers believe corruption is widespread and has a major effect on city services, more than half also said the city could be run cleanly.
Since the scandals began, a plethora of suggestions for reform have come from all quarters. Last week the mayor and Gov. Mario M. Cuomo announced a City-State Commission on Integrity in Government. City and state legislators have proposed campaign-reform packages. An anticorruption conference was held last week to give more than 100 state agency heads and aides training from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on uncovering corruption in agencies.
``We should not hesitate to take advantage of this political climate and push hard now for real reform,'' state Attorney General Robert Abrams said in a speech delivered to the conference last Friday. He called for restrictions limiting dealings between political party leaders and former officials with government agencies; tougher antibribery laws; new financial disclosure requirements for public officials; and more protection for government employees who blow the whistle on corruption.
The investigations were helped last week when Geoffrey G. Lindenauer, former deputy director of the Parking Violations Bureau, pleaded guilty to extortion charges and agreed to cooperate with federal investigators. With the death of Manes, the highest ranking official implicated in the inquiries, more attention will likely be put on Bronx Democratic chairman Stanley M. Friedman. A business partly owned by Mr. Friedman had a contract to sell computers to the parking bureau.
Indeed, some observers say the Democratic Party in the city's boroughs will suffer some of the greatest fallout from the corruption scandal. Many of the allegations focus on favors granted by political leaders.