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Donald Manes

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Donald Manes
16th Borough President of Queens
In office
September 17, 1971 – February 11, 1986
Preceded bySidney Leviss
Succeeded byClaire Shulman
Member of the New York City Council
from the 15th district
In office
Preceded byJulius Moskowitz
Succeeded byMorton Povman
Personal details
BornJanuary 18, 1934 (1934-01-18)
Brooklyn, New York
DiedMarch 13, 1986 (1986-03-14) (aged 52)
New York City
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseMarlene Manes

Donald R. Manes (/ˈmænɪs/, /-əs/; January 18, 1934 – March 13, 1986) was a Democratic Party politician from New York City. He served as borough president of the New York City borough of Queens from 1971 until just before his suicide while under suspicion of corruption in 1986.[1]


Manes was born in Brooklyn, where he graduated from Erasmus Hall High School.[2] He briefly attended New York University before earning a degree in business administration from Hofstra University.[3] In 1957, he received his LL.B. from Brooklyn Law School.[4] He moved to Queens with his family as a teenager.

Following his admission to the New York bar, Manes was employed as a Queens County assistant district attorney under the aegis of Frank D. O'Connor, later serving as an associate counsel to New York State Assembly member Moses M. Weinstein during his successful battle to become the legislative body's majority leader in 1965. That same year, he was elected to the New York City Council, becoming the youngest member of its Queens delegation from a Jamaica Estates-based district. He ultimately ascended to the chair of the Council's Housing Committee and emerged as a protégé of influential Councilman Matthew Troy, a strident opponent of then-Mayor John Lindsay who became chair of the Queens Democratic Party in 1971.[5]

Elected to his final role at the behest of Troy when he was 37, Manes was the youngest borough president in Queens history. During his tenure, Manes transformed his position from a mid-level policymaking role (although the borough presidents held influential seats on the now-defunct New York City Board of Estimate, incumbents generally served as proxies for county party leaders) into a more proactive political job, capitalizing on Queens's historic lack of a robust Democratic political machine in the mold of Manhattan's Tammany Hall or the storied clubhouse scenes in Brooklyn and the Bronx. In 1974, Mayor Abe Beame worked with Manes to arrange Troy’s ouster as Queens Democratic leader, with Manes assuming the role for the remainder of his life. Troy had angered Manes when he supported Howard J. Samuels against eventual incumbent Hugh Carey in the 1974 Democratic gubernatorial primary.[6] Manes was re-elected four more times through the turn of the decade, also serving as a delegate to the 1980 Democratic National Convention during this period.

His popularity plummeted in late 1985, when he was criticized over two of his pet projects. He wanted to build a Grand Prix auto racetrack in Queens's largest public park, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, where the 1939 New York World's Fair and the 1964 New York World's Fair had been held. Community leaders denigrated the idea, and it became the first major project of his that was opposed. Also that year, Manes worked to build a domed football-baseball stadium in the park, but it was opposed by local businessmen in the Flushing area. When Queens couldn't secure a football franchise, the plan died.

One of his biggest controversies came in late 1985, when Manes wanted to wire the borough for cable television. Manes rejected a proposal by the Queens-based Orth-O-Vision company to place cable lines in the borough, and instead awarded contracts to mega-companies Warner Communications and Time-Life, as well as a cable firm owned by former Manhattan borough president Percy Sutton. Local residents were outraged that he passed over a local firm for large national companies.

Downfall and suicide[edit]

Shortly after his inauguration for a fifth term, Manes attended a dinner party for the new Israeli consul at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens on January 9, 1986. He left in his own car and was followed by his chauffeur up Queens Boulevard. He was later found in his car in the early morning hours of January 10; his wrists were slit and he was bleeding profusely. He initially claimed that two men had carjacked and attacked him, but later recanted the statement, saying he had attempted suicide.[7]

In the following weeks, it was alleged that Manes had used political appointments and favors as the source of large kickback schemes involving personal bureaucratic fiefdoms, most notably the New York City Parking Violations Bureau. In 1978, Manes installed a friend, Geoffrey Lindenauer, who later cooperated with prosecutors, as the deputy head of the Parking Violations Bureau. With Manes’ help, Lindenauer steered collections of parking fines to a company that paid the two bribes of up to $2,500 per month by 1982. Later in 1982, Manes, Lindenauer and Bronx Democratic Party leader Stanley M. Friedman each received shares in a company called Citisource, which won a city contract to develop a handheld parking ticket computer. Manes also accepted bribes from SRS, a company also involved in parking ticket collections, whose owner also cooperated with authorities. Columnist Jimmy Breslin published a story on January 23, 1986 in which the head of a third parking collections company confessed to paying $36,000 in bribes to Manes.[7]

Zoning and cable TV franchises were being investigated, and some of Manes' appointees and associates were indicted or forced to resign. Manes' deputy Claire Shulman was installed as acting Borough President on January 28 and he formally resigned on February 11.[8]

The scandal became nationwide news and a continuing top story in New York City. Manes, now facing the prospect of indictment on corruption charges, stayed in seclusion until March. On the night of March 13, he took a phone call from his psychiatrist, who discussed additional care with Manes (and his wife on an extension phone upstairs). Shortly before 10 p.m. the psychiatrist was called away from the phone and, while on hold, Manes reached into a kitchen drawer, pulled out a large kitchen knife and plunged the eight-inch blade into his heart. His daughter screamed for her mother, who came down to find Manes on the floor in a pool of blood. Marlene Manes pulled the knife from his heart as their daughter frantically called 911. Donald Manes was pronounced dead at the scene.[1]

Less than three years later, on November 17, 1988, Morton Manes, Donald Manes' twin brother, attempted suicide in the same manner. He died of a heart attack at the age of 70 in May 2004.[9]

Manes was buried at Mt. Ararat Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York. Manes' successor, Claire Shulman, served as Borough President until 2002.

Popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b Meislin, Richard J. "MANES'S DEATH: A FRANTIC CALL, A FATAL THRUST", The New York Times, March 15, 1986. Accessed December 11, 2007.
  2. ^ Mathieu, Richard (September 28, 1971). "Manes a Shoo-in With GOP Nod". Daily News. p. 297. Retrieved May 17, 2024.
  3. ^ Davis, Ron (March 14, 1986). "In Politics, Manes Played to Win". Newsday. p. 21. Retrieved May 17, 2024.
  4. ^ LLC, New York Media (January 27, 1986). New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC.
  5. ^ Meislin, Richard J. (March 14, 1986). "POLITICAL POWER AND INFLUENCE LOST IN A SWIRLING CITY SCANDAL; MANES'S LIFE: RAPID ASCENT, DIZZYING FALL". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 31, 2024.
  6. ^ Carroll, Maurice (September 27, 1974). "Beame Gathers Power". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 31, 2024.
  7. ^ a b "Corruption scandal: Donny Manes and the public trough". New York Daily News. August 14, 2017.
  8. ^ Oreskes, Michael (February 12, 1986). "Manes Resigns 2 Queens Posts, Citing 'Burden'". The New York Times.
  9. ^ "Queens Tribune". Archived from the original on June 10, 2004. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  10. ^ Law & Order S01E06 "Everybody's Favorite Bagman"
New York City Council
Preceded by New York City Council
15th district

Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Borough President of Queens
Succeeded by