Dick Sprague’s career took another significant turn in the ’70s. A 1973 Inquirer article suggested that Sprague, as an assistant D.A., had quashed the prosecution of a murder suspect who happened to be a friend’s son, a scandal that played for weeks in the papers. Sprague adamantly denied it, and eventually won a huge settlement from the paper, but damage had been done to his public persona nonetheless. Widely considered the natural successor to Arlen Specter as D.A., Sprague instead went into private practice, and had to exercise power from behind the scenes. Which made a creator and controller of public officials like Vince Fumo an extremely helpful compatriot.
By the early ’90s, Fumo was the city’s most powerful figure, a master at controlling the purse strings of much state and local political business. He could also make other men — Councilman Frank DiCicco is a case in point. DiCicco went to Fumo back in 1976 when he was running for a State House seat. That took balls, a Republican coming to Fumo, and Vince loves balls. Eventually, DiCicco would get so ticked at his party that he’d take Fumo’s offer of a staff job, become a Democrat and, a lot of people believe, forever beholden to Vince Fumo. Because if you want to keep your seat, you have to remember where you came from and who got you where you are. That’s an important basis of Fumo’s power.
What Fumo craved back in the early ’90s, though, was more personal than the raw games of power and money and politics. He tended to get close to older men (and he’s typically dated much younger women). At his 60th birthday party several years ago, he cited investment banker Steve Marcus, Peter Nero and Dick Sprague as the three men closest to his heart, all much older than he, men he could look up to instead of control. Sprague and Fumo had much in common. They both love gadgets. They’re both computer geeks. And they talked a great deal, not just about judges or casinos or governors, but about medicine, and banking, and real estate, and national elections, and traveling, and, if Dick could get Vince to slow down enough to listen, opera. … And they dined at Springwood, Sprague’s mansion in Haverford.