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

Meanwhile, DiCicco and Sprague were both badgering Fumo. DiCicco needed help on the anti-casino front; Sprague couldn’t understand, for the life of him, why it was so hard for Fumo to control your fucking councilman.

Fumo had tried to. In fact, back in the summer of ’06, he’d been so aggressive with DiCicco in pleading Sprague’s case that DiCicco stopped taking his calls for a while.

But in the spring of last year, the ground was shifting. Fumo was an indicted senator facing reelection in a year’s time; meanwhile, the anti-casino forces were gaining traction. He tried to play it both ways by introducing two buffer-zone bills that would separate casinos from the adjacent neighborhoods. Fumo was throwing the anti-casino forces a bone, though he publicly belittled the bills as unpassable. That didn’t stop Sprague from going ballistic on him.

Meanwhile, Fumo was worrying about his case. The indictment meant that he had to pay Dick Sprague with his own money instead of supporters’ or taxpayers’. Sprague, not surprisingly, wasn’t willing to cap his fee. The feds were making conflict-of-interest accusations against Sprague, and trying to get him removed as Fumo’s lawyer because he had other clients — the State Senate, the Seaport Museum, and Citizens Alliance, the South Philly charity that Fumo aides founded in 1991 — that were named in the indictment. But given that they were clients Fumo had helped Sprague procure, and that had paid Sprague handsomely over the years, Fumo wondered why the hell he should pay now for Sprague to go to court to plead his case for remaining Fumo’s lawyer. Fumo, in fact, was starting to openly voice doubts, yelling about how much fucking money he was spending on a lawyer some people were saying was the wrong guy in the first place …

At some point, deep on a summer night, it must have hit: He could lose everything. He could spend the rest of his life in prison. That’s a rock-bottom thought for anyone, and especially for a hard-ass politician. But it’s a point Fumo clearly reached. Last summer, he had lunch with a downtown lawyer, a longtime friend, who was shocked by what he heard: Fumo ranted and raved about how much he hated Sprague. There was nothing particularly substantive, or concrete, in what he was saying. Dick Sprague was simply a motherfucking son of a bitch. What came through was how Fumo felt personally abandoned by Sprague, his father figure, his lawyer, the man he adored, the man whose home — Springwood — Vince Fumo retreated to over his 1999 divorce from Jane, his second wife, and after his surgeries. To get the special care of Dick Sprague’s staff, of Dick Sprague’s particular style. Where was it now?

This was, longtime Fumo-ites knew, a turning point: It is very hard to get on Vince Fumo’s motherfuckers list. But once you’re on it, you will never get off.

VINCE FUMO, THROUGH his spokesman, says that Dick Sprague is no longer his lawyer because Sprague’s conflicts of interest posed “potential pitfalls.” But a source close to Sprague points again to the bottom line: Vince Fumo didn’t want to pay Dick Sprague with his own money, even at a $200-an-hour rate that’s less than Sprague’s normal fee. The Fumo camp counters that the Senator also had concerns about the number of hours that were billed. Beyond the financial issues, Sprague’s source maintains that the friendship was killed by Fumo doing everything he could to block the building of SugarHouse.

The fallout of the feud, at any rate, made some people very happy. Frankie DiCicco was walking south on 2nd Street on the warm evening of October 3rd, heading to a fund-raiser at Headhouse Square. He ran into an anti-casino activist heading the other way. DiCicco was positively buoyant, beaming.

“Haven’t you heard?” he crowed. “Fumo and Sprague had a big fight! Vince is on our side now!”

It was such a long way from Get Dick, call Dick, what would Dick say? Dick Sprague had made the motherfuckers list.

TODAY, SOMEONE CLOSE to Fumo describes the shift in the Senator’s thinking thusly: “I get to fuck Sprague and be on the side of all those anti-casino people!” — meaning the folks who had been driving him and Frankie DiCicco bonkers for a couple years. Vince Fumo pulling out the political stops is a thing of beauty, as he tries to ensure that SugarHouse doesn’t get built.