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

Springwood is where it got very personal for Fumo. Sprague cushioned his life with servants and, for many years, a woman he squired around but didn’t live with, or marry. “I am the only person who lives in my house,” Sprague was fond of saying. Fumo was obsessed with Sprague’s style — Springwood was named in homage to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Hyde Park home — because that’s what Fumo wanted, too. Sprague’s style — when you travel, rent a castle; when you’re home, get pampered by round-the-clock help — was still a step up for Vince Fumo. That gave Sprague a certain superiority, a general expertise. “Vince would invoke Dick at the drop of a hat,” remembers a lawyer who’s known both of them for many years. “He would say, ‘Dick told me such and such is going to happen,’ and even if it was ridiculous, Vince would believe it, because he had total faith in Dick.”

And Dick got to be, in return, very close to a very powerful man, a maker of other men.

Mostly, they operated behind the scenes. One city political campaign on which they did work the front lines provided a weird bit of Sprague/Fumo intrigue. When Marty Weinberg ran for mayor in 1999, his opponent, Happy Fernandez, questioned his residency, given that Weinberg had bought a $675,000 Penn Valley home two years earlier. Sprague and Fumo held a joint press conference, where Sprague meticulously laid out the law on city residency and how Weinberg complied. Then a reporter asked why Weinberg had bought a house in the suburbs.

“My real answer to you is,” Sprague said, “I think that’s none of your business.”

Fumo, noting that Fernandez had some vulnerabilities, challenged the strangeness of the nickname “Happy”: “Why doesn’t she use her name Gladys?” Sprague had also threatened to sue Fernandez and her lawyer if they didn’t withdraw their suit on the residency challenge, and to go after their personal assets as damages.

All in all, they seemed to view the Weinberg campaign as an opportunity to demonstrate sheer aggression as a winning strategy. After the press conference, however, Weinberg’s popularity in the polls shot down some 20 points.

But behind the scenes, it was a different — and much more successful — story. The mantra of Get Dick, call Dick, what does Dick say? was, for Fumo, an ongoing stream of political and legal advice. The two e-mailed each other constantly. Sprague’s reputation for litigiousness was “a great tool,” says Ken Smukler, a longtime campaign strategist; a letter from Sprague threatening legal action could squelch stories — even the threat of a threatening letter from him gave rival campaigns and TV and print outlets pause. Meanwhile, Sprague had, in Fumo, a friend who could procure him a wide range of things, like a parking spot in front of the opera, or dinner with the governor.