As president of the New York City borough of Queens, Donald Manes was the political boss of a community whose population (2 million) puts it on a par with the fourth-largest city in the U.S. A savvy leader whose burly gruffness sometimes masked his warmth and intelligence, he had been known as "the King of Queens" for the way he dispensed patronage and used his clout with city hall in Manhattan.
Last week Manes' political saga came to an abrupt end. He was in the kitchen of his Tudor-style home in tony Jamaica Estates, talking on the telephone with his psychiatrist about committing himself to a mental hospital. Increasingly despondent, the 52-year-old politician suddenly began rummaging through a drawer, pulled out an eight-inch knife and plunged it into his heart. His wife Marlene found him slumping to the floor moments later and pulled the blade from his chest, but he was dead in minutes. There was no suicide note; explanations were unnecessary. Federal prosecutors seemed poised to indict Manes in the biggest New York scandal since the Knapp Commission uncovered police corruption in 1970.
The borough president's suicide was a grotesque climax to a case that had been unfolding since the early morning of Jan. 10, when police in Queens noticed a weaving car, investigated and found Manes at the wheel. He was dazed and bleeding profusely from a slashed wrist and ankle. Rushed to the hospital, Manes survived heavy blood loss and a subsequent heart attack. At first he claimed that he had been attacked, but he later admitted that his wounds were self-inflicted.
His friends, including New York Mayor Edward Koch, were startled. Manes was at the peak of his 21-year political career, newly re-elected, and admired by his constituents. Soon, though, the reason for Manes' inner torture became known: his close friend Geoffrey Lindenauer, 52, whom Manes had placed as deputy director of the city's parking-violations bureau, was charged with extorting $5,000 from a private collection agency as a payoff for a contract to dun motorists for unpaid parking tickets.
Secluding himself in his Queens home, Manes was available only to his family, his lawyers and doctors. But his reticence did not stop others from talking. Michael Dowd, part owner of a parking-ticket collection company, told prosecutors that, on instructions from Manes, he had paid bribes of $36,000 to Lindenauer.
Manes' world swiftly became more lonely and hostile. Koch, feeling betrayed by his friend, called Manes "a crook" and urged him to resign. "It was the biggest shock that I've suffered politically," Koch told TIME last week. Manes did resign on Feb. 11. The final blow came last week, when his friend Lindenauer pleaded guilty to extortion and mail fraud and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Apparently that was enough to drive Manes to his last desperate act--an end foreshadowed 31 years earlier when his own father, despondent over reported financial reverses, shot himself to death. --By John S. DeMott. Reported by Joseph N. Boyce/New York