TWO WEEKS AFTER THE APPROPRIATIONS MEETING in Harrisburg, Farnese is sitting in what appears to be a more natural environment—Rouge, the Rittenhouse bistro where the moneyed crowd, scenesters, hangers-on and designer-clad train wrecks provide the city’s best people-watching. In a black puffer vest, jeans and Pumas, Farnese is relaxed and, as always, high-energy and smiling. In a suit, Farnese’s broad shoulders give him the look of a college fullback who’s not far from his playing weight; dressed down, he appears slimmer and even younger. The cute hostesses know him on sight, and find a corner table for him immediately. As he threads through the crowd, a stunning young brunette waves and says hello, as does a gushing Sharon Pinkenson. The ratio of women to men greeting the senator is roughly three to one. “No one’s beating down my door,” Farnese insists when asked about his newly acquired stud status. But gossip items tell a different story.
Beyond the public’s fascination with his private life, Farnese doesn’t have much in common with Fumo. While the latter was known for his ruthless streak—Congressman Bob Brady once likened him to Darth Vader—Farnese is more like an affable, hyperactive kid who’s short-cycling his ADD meds. When Fumo walked into a room, mayors and governors turned their heads; once, when Farnese was in a crowded elevator on the way to the Senate floor, his phone rang to the tune of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize.” “They thought I was some staffer,” he recalls with a laugh. “I used to get that a lot.”
While seemingly in his element at Rouge, he’s almost as new to the boozy party circuit as he is to the power crowd. Farnese was a self-described “geeky guy” growing up, and his dates were mostly the result of setups from friends, not smooth pickup lines. When he’s not out politicking, he’s usually at home watching documentaries, or with Mannino and Mucellin for their long-standing Sunday movie nights, hosted by Farnese, the only single guy left in the posse. During downtime in Harrisburg, he’d rather catch a superhero flick than drink up at happy hour. “He’ll say, ‘We have to stay for the end credits because there’s a scene that’s going to set up the sequel,’” says Stack, his state capital cineplex buddy. “He likes action movies, especially any one about a comic book. He knows all the history.” Farnese might be the only appropriations committee member who unwinds by fighting crime as Batman on his Xbox.
Although being introduced as a senator works as a pickup line, Farnese’s political ambition is often at cross-purposes with his desire to settle down. “In ’06, I remember dating someone I actually had feelings for,” Farnese recalls. “She said, ‘Look, you’re gonna win. You might not win this time, but you’re not going to stop until you win. And this lifestyle is just not for me.’ And she bolted out of town. That’s happened before.”
Since then, his longest relationships—with McCormick, the TV reporter, and Jin Hee Park, a separated mother of two from Lafayette Hill—have lasted only a few months. Before anyone breaks out the violins, there have been a number of, ahem, much shorter-term companions, many of them the hot-bodied Pretty Young Things who populate HughE Dillon’s paparazzi photos. (Though tongues wagged when Farnese was seen at Rouge in proximity to adult actress Gina Lynn, Farnese says he just said hello. His folks read about his brush with porn in the Daily News: “My mom said, ‘I hope she’s Italian.’”)
Farnese doesn’t like to talk about his trysts—even though, to a woman, past paramours describe him as a nice guy who’s dedicated to his job, albeit maybe too much. When told that Farnese considers them to be people who understand who he is, both McCormick and Park are surprised. “I never knew where I stood with him,” says McCormick. “So I moved on. It wasn’t until months later that I even realized how he felt about me.”
Park met Farnese at a New Year’s party in Blue Bell last January—she wore a bronze Herve Leger dress, in contrast to his sport coat and “ugly blue glasses,” as she recalls. The attraction wasn’t so much physical; she was impressed by his chivalry and intrigued by his career. “I’m politically retarded,” she explains. “I asked him, ‘What does a senator do?’ That was definitely part of my interest.” The pair broke up after just four months. “He’s amazing at his job,” she says. “He was meant to do this. But he was constantly pushing me away.”
Park and Farnese still spend time together, and Farnese admits he hopes he can overcome his failings and settle down someday. “You catch yourself texting at the table or looking at emails, and you can’t do that,” he says. “This person is giving up their time to be with you. That relationship [with McCormick] was my fault. [With Park], I failed to realize that every time she was with me, it was a minute she could have been with her kids. When it comes to work stuff, I think I’m pretty good. Personal life has never been easy.”
One sexy ex-flame of Farnese’s who’s a regular on the Center City party scene says his problem is as old as politics itself. “He needs a senator’s wife, but he’s going after models,” she says, stressing that he’s “wonderful” and “a very sweet person.” “Nice guys are attracted to bad girls, and this is a time in his life when he can go after those girls. That’s not sustainable for him right now. He needs a Jackie O., not a Marilyn.”
Just as Fumo’s love life was the source of endless gossip, Farnese’s bachelorhood, combined with his longtime support of the LGBT community, has fueled persistent speculation that he’s gay—so much so that neither friends nor Farnese himself blanches when the rumor is mentioned. “They usually say that if you’re neat, thin and attractive,” Farnese says. “I’m 0-for-3.” The whispers began during his Senate race, and then grew louder—according to those close to Farnese, thanks to a well-known female political operative who sided with Johnny Doc. Some believe it was simply a dirty campaign tactic, while others think she was upset that Farnese wasn’t interested in romancing her. Either way, Farnese says, with a nod to Seinfeld, “It’s really not an issue for me. I’m not gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.”