The Feud

After years as the closest of friends, two of Philadelphia’s most brilliant and powerful men, Dick Sprague and Vince Fumo, have turned bitter enemies. A tale of influence, money, accusations of betrayal — and the impact their shattered relationship is having on the rest of us

THEY WATCHED EACH other, for a long time, from a distance. Eighteen years separate them in age, a gap as wide as a father and son, and they ruled different spheres: the assistant D.A. who scared people, he was so good, so tough, so brilliant, and the rising State Senator who also scared people, because he too was very good and very tough and brilliant enough himself to be a member of Mensa. When the assistant D.A. moved on, into private practice, he was just as good at that, and he got rich. The Senator’s political fiefdom grew, and he brought bigger and bigger pieces of the state pie to his city, their city — and he too made, or at least spent, plenty of money.

Perhaps they weren’t so different, then. And they shared something else: Both had to win. Always. The lawyer was the most feared man in the city, because he wouldn’t just win, but would crush you. The Senator was good, too, on a street level, when it came to elections and patronage jobs and judges.

So it was inevitable what was ­coming — especially in Philadelphia, a city that’s really a small town. Though it could take two different forms. They could compete, and become enemies, or they could connect and join forces. They could become friends.

An easy choice, it turned out. The difference in age, the different spheres — legal and political — gave them room. And the chemistry was special — they did become like father and son. Everyone could see the connection. Especially in Vince, the son. Something would come up, maybe somebody should be sued, and it became his mantra — Get Dick, call Dick, what does Dick say? For his part, Dick, calmer, more measured, surer, would invite Vince to Springwood, his estate in the suburbs, where at dinner parties for 10 or 12 a hidden buzzer summoned a uniformed butler or the next course, or he’d rent a ­castle in Scotland for just the two of them. Once, Dick took him to London, where they had precise measurements taken of their feet at a shoe boutique, to ensure that perfectly molded English leather could be forever ordered. Or Dick, in a roomful of warring opinions, would simply — and this was his biggest fatherly gift — cut to the right answer, the precise thing to do.

So they helped each other become more powerful and richer, and cared for each other as a father and son. But power and money don’t stay neatly in their own spheres, don’t remain separated by differences in age or skill or temperament. So this was inevitable too:

They would collide. And it would be ugly.

 

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