Donald Manes bigraphy, stories - Presidents

Donald Manes : biography

January 18, 1934 - March 13, 1986

Donald R. Manes (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.Meislin, Richard J. , The New York Times, March 15, 1986. Accessed December 11, 2007.


Elected at age 37, the Brooklyn-born Manes was the youngest borough president in Queens history. During his term, Manes turned his position from merely a ceremonial role into a more proactive political job.

He was re-elected four more times, and was a delegate to the 1980 Democratic National Convention.

Manes' popularity plummeted in late 1985, when he was criticized over two of his pet projects he wanted to build in Queens's largest public park, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. One proposal was for a Grand Prix auto racetrack in the park, where the 1939 New York World's Fair and the 1964 New York World's Fair had been held. Local community leaders lamented the idea, which 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 the biggest controversies came in late 1985, when Manes wanted to wire the borough for cable television. Manes rejected a proposal by the Queens-based Ortho-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 communities were outraged by the fact he passed over a local firm for large national companies.

Downfall and suicide

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.

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 such as the New York City Parking Violations Bureau. Zoning and cable TV franchises were being investigated, and some of Manes' appointees and associates were indicted or forced to resign. Manes himself stepped down as borough president in February.

The scandal became nationwide news and a continuing top story in New York. A fictionalized version served as the basis for the pilot episode of the television series Law & Order. 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.

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.

A loosely fictionalized version of the events leading to Manes' suicide served as the basis of the motion picture City Hall.

Donald Manes was followed in office by Deputy Borough President Claire Shulman, who served until 2002.

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