NEW YORK, AUG. 7 -- Joe Alessandro, a Bronx lawyer, lives a few miles from Yankee Stadium, and although a cable television station carries about two-thirds of the team's games, he is unable to watch them.
Nearly all of the Bronx and most of Brooklyn and Queens are not yet wired for cable. And Mayor Edward I. Koch, worried about the possibility of further indictments in the corruption scandals that have jarred this city for 18 months, recently ordered a halt to further wiring in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
The move caused such a public outcry that a state commission this week scheduled an unusual meeting at which it may overrule Koch.
"We're being penalized because of the wrongdoing of the politicians," Alessandro said. "It's a frustrating situation. You go home after a hard day at the office, and you want to watch a ballgame."
Forty-three million American households now have cable television, up from 15 million in 1980. But the delays in bringing cable to the boroughs here typify the experience of many cities where influence peddling, incompetence, financial woes and grandiose designs have forced many residents to wait years for the same cable programming their neighbors are watching.
In the District of Columbia, about 5,000 homes have been wired for cable and the system is scheduled for completion in 1990. District Cablevision, the city's cable operator, had to scale back the size and scope of its system after running into serious financial problems. In other cities -- Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore -- proposed cable systems remain years from completion.
"In larger urban areas, the franchising process has tended to be politicized," said Lynn McReynolds, spokeswoman for the National Cable Television Association. "There have also been bidding wars and lawsuits, and the cities were requiring more and more things."
New York has had all these problems and more as it has struggled to extend cable outside Manhattan, which has a 20-year-old, first-generation system. The widening corruption probe has proved the major roadblock.John A. Zaccaro, a Queens real estate broker and husband of 1984 Democratic vice-presidential nominee Geraldine A. Ferraro, is scheduled to stand trial next month on charges of trying to extort a $1 million bribe from Cablevision, the state's largest cable operator, to help the company obtain a lucrative contract in Queens. Zaccaro is an associate of former Queens borough president Donald R. Manes, whose suicide last year came during investigations of several city agencies.
Zaccaro's lawyer said he will be exonerated. Cablevision officials have said they refused to pay the bribe, and the firm did not receive the Queens franchise. Cablevision is the contractor whose work has been halted by Koch in the Bronx and major parts of Brooklyn. Francis X. Smith, administrative judge for the state courts in Queens, was convicted last month of perjury and contempt charges related to his role in meeting with Zaccaro, Manes and Cablevision officials. Michael A. Nussbaum, another Manes associate, was convicted today of soliciting a $250,000 bribe on Manes' behalf from another contractor seeking the Queens cable franchise. Investigators have also looked at a Hispanic firm in the Bronx that joined forces with Cablevision when it was seeking the Bronx franchise.
William Finneran, chairman of the State Commission on Cable Television, said his agency may order the wiring resumed at a special Aug. 19 session. He noted that the city has authority to cancel the franchise of any contractor who is indicted.
"There's a point at which 400,000 families in the Bronx and 600,000 families in Brooklyn are being held hostage to an investigative process," Finneran said in an interview.
Finneran also sees a disturbing pattern in the way the market has been divided. While big companies such as Warner Communications and Time Inc. have competed for the affluent sections of Queens, neighborhoods such as the South Bronx and Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant and Coney Island remain unserved.
"The white, upper-class areas of the city are wired, and the poor areas are not," he said. "I don't think it's a coincidence."
Technically, the city's Board of Estimate awards cable franchises through competitive bidding, but insiders such as Manes appear to have pulled the strings. "The decision on divvying up cable contracts, in a local version of senatorial courtesy, was delegated to the borough presidents," said Roger B. Adler, an attorney for the city's former franchise chief, who recently resigned under fire.
Koch imposed the cable moratorium after meeting with U.S. Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and other investigators. "The mayor for a year and a half now has had bombshells of corruption explode all around him,' State Assemblyman John C. Dearie, a Bronx Democrat, said. "He's gotten cautious and gun-shy."
The partial blackout of the Yankees, who are in a tight pennant race, has made his caution more intensely unpopular. More than 100 games each season had been broadcast on noncable Channel 11 here, but Yankee owner George Steinbrenner signed a contract several years ago to shift most games to cable in 1987, when the city was expected to be fully wired.
Dearie, who unsuccessfully pushed legislation to force the team to air more games on commercial television, said his Bronx constituents "are people who have overdosed on Yankee baseball for the last four decades." Alessandro has gathered 24,000 signatures on petitions by working the aisles at home games.
Steven Levine, 28, a Brooklyn postal worker, said he is "disgusted" with city politicians for delaying the wiring of his neighborhood. "I used to live on Long Island, and I got spoiled with the sports and movies," he said. "Now you get to look at the Mets and Yankees once a week, if you're lucky."
Finneran blamed city officials for delaying the $1.5 billion wiring process outside Manhattan by insisting on a gold-plated, 120-channel system. The city finally settled for 77 channels.
"They were saying we want a Mercedes-Benz when an efficient Chevy would do the job," he said. "Seventy-seven channels is more than enough for any one human being."