Off the Cuff: December 2011

In defense of Vince Fumo

The recent Fumo affair reminds me of one of those old black-and-white movies that show the scene of the peasant mob coming for the duke’s head. The peasants arrive at the castle gates hoisting their torches and wooden pitchforks, with dogs barking, ready to smash their way in. They are relentless.

Somehow I can’t get that scene out of my mind when I think about the recent Herculean effort by the local media and the U.S. Justice Department to keep Vince Fumo locked up for the rest of his life. Yes, he was a dishonest politician, but in Philadelphia, that’s not unusual. Sure, he kept some of the money he raised for Philadelphia projects for his personal use. That’s unusual for Philadelphia politicians. In our town, they usually keep most of the money for themselves, leaving little for what it’s intended to do.

For his sins, Fumo got a sentence in 2009 of 55 months—not nearly enough for the feds, who wanted him gone for 17 to 21 years, never to return. There was much sharpening of knives at the Inquirer, too, where writing endlessly about the Vince of Darkness has been a blood sport.

So the feds, knowing Fumo would see the light of day soon, appealed his sentence. Early last month, Judge Ronald Buckwalter gave the verdict: Fumo would serve only an additional six months. As I write this, federal prosecutors are still whining about the patent unfairness of it all. How horrible it is, that Vince Fumo will likely ride again into Philadelphia.

Much better to keep him in prison, because he just might go back to working the political levers that brought tens of millions of dollars in federal and state money into this city for various projects, and we certainly can’t have that.

Judge Buckwalter is hearing it from the Vince haters for having the temerity to tack on only half a year more to his sentence. I, on the other hand, applaud the judge for his guts, but I also stand behind politicians who get things done, so I’m in the minority here. By the way, apparently the only reason Fumo got more time from Buckwalter was because it annoyed the judge that in e-mails to friends and family from prison, Fumo called his jury “dumb, corrupt, and prejudiced.” He didn’t exhibit remorse, either. What a lousy attitude that Fumo has.

Of course, local media had a field day with his e-mails. The Daily News got into the act when columnist Ronnie Polaneczky railed against Fumo for calling her an ugly word related to the female anatomy because she had criticized him in print. What Fumo e-mailed about Polaneczky was nasty, and graceless and petty. In Philadelphia, that also passes for important.

I would rather have a politician with a bad attitude who gets things done and takes a little for himself on the side than some incompetent glad-hander who can’t get a pothole fixed. The point isn’t that politics is nasty business—it’s that effective politics is nasty business. When a politician goes too far—as Fumo certainly did—he should be punished. But to lock his cell and throw away the key, which is what the prosecutors and our paper of record have taken a slobbering glee in pushing for, is unseemly and sad.

Prosecutors and journalists like to get all high and mighty about a culture of corruption in Philadelphia politics. Frankly, I’m a little more concerned about a culture of ineffectiveness. But most people don’t seem especially uncomfortable with that legacy, one our mayor and Council and most of our state legislators contribute to. Woe to the politician who gets things done and takes no prisoners along the way. I’ll be pleased when Vince Fumo gets out of prison, at the ripe young age of 70. Perhaps he’ll go back to work for his city.

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  • Alex

    However, This thought by you is somewhat disturbing. First of all, I believe the problem with our political system is that its all grab, grab, grab. Secondly, if that’s a good thing, and Vince Fumo is your idea of an Ideal Political figure then, I would ask that you simply substitute the name “Vince Fumo”, with “Mafia.” Re-read your comments then and tell me how you feel. Thats how it strikes me.

  • Alex

    However, This thought by you is somewhat disturbing. First of all, I believe the problem with our political system is that its all grab, grab, grab. Secondly, if that’s a good thing, and Vince Fumo is your idea of an Ideal Political figure then, I would ask that you simply substitute the name “Vince Fumo”, with “Mafia.” Re-read your comments then and tell me how you feel. Thats how it strikes me.

  • Gina

    Love the article and totally agree there can NEVER be another Vince Fumo. NO ONE can ever accomplish what he did! Plenty of families are suffering around this time of year too because he donated so much of his own money to unfortunate families-I worked for him and he was a great boss and the hardest working person I ever encountered! I will be happy to see him home! There isn’t enough room to write what I want to! Great job -glad someone had the guts to display their satisfaction with the Judge’s verdict!

  • Alex

    Im sure Angelo Bruna had no pot holes on his street too. Im also sure his neighbore were very happy and safe on his block. Its the rest of Philly that had to worry. And excuse me, but didnt Angelo Lutz dress up as Santa Claus too. I rest my case. This article is poorly thought out. Thankfully we have people who look out for the rights of EVERYONE. Not just the misunderstood do-gooders.

  • Paul

    Great article, David. the golden side of his character gets lost in the bluster.
    While he may have his faults, like all of us, he always had a big heart for Philadelphia and indivduals who sought
    his assistance, rich or poor.

    There is no definition of duties for a state legislator in law or constitution. That can be used as an excuse to do nothing, or to make good things happen for your people. Vince always chose the latter option.

    Thanks for the article.

  • Al

    It is very sad that Vince Fumo was defeated by his own greed and egotism but throughout his career he did a lot of good. Philadelphia needs smart, relentless fighters like him. Politics is a nasty business and politicians are a special breed. We prefer the ones who maintain a high moral standard but we really really need ones who can be effective. He deserves the punishment and public embarrassment he is getting but not damnation. Someday, the Inqy should print the long list of positive projects and programs that would have never seen daylight without Vince.

  • Al

    It is very sad that Vince Fumo was defeated by his own greed and egotism but throughout his career he did a lot of good. Philadelphia needs smart, relentless fighters like him. Politics is a nasty business and politicians are a special breed. We prefer the ones who maintain a high moral standard but we really really need ones who can be effective. He deserves the punishment and public embarrassment he is getting but not damnation. Someday, the Inqy should print the long list of positive projects and programs that would have never seen daylight without Vince.

  • Al

    It is very sad that Vince Fumo was defeated by his own greed and egotism but throughout his career he did a lot of good. Philadelphia needs smart, relentless fighters like him. Politics is a nasty business and politicians are a special breed. We prefer the ones who maintain a high moral standard but we really really need ones who can be effective. He deserves the punishment and public embarrassment he is getting but not damnation. Someday, the Inqy should print the long list of positive projects and programs that would have never seen daylight without Vince.