The Betrayal

For 30 years, as Vince Fumo ruled Philadelphia politics, we knew how he operated: You were either on his side or he’d try to destroy you. The behind-the-scenes run-up to his federal trial this month reveals something new: His family works in exactly the same way

Central to the get-Vince narrative is the idea that Christian had a choice — that he went to the U.S. Attorney freely, and early on. Susan and Joe say this isn’t true. In the summer of 2004, well into the investigation, the government called Christian. Both of Christian’s brothers told me the same thing — that Christian was reluctant to talk. Of course, you can always tell a government agent to screw off. You don’t have to answer questions. But the government has leverage. (Howard Cain, Vince’s longtime pollster, got flipped over tax evasion charges.) Failing that, there’s always a grand-jury subpoena.

There’s only one thing that everybody agrees on: Vincent II is Mini-Vinnie no more. He’s back in his father’s good graces. He works at Comcast now, as a software engineer in the Interactive Media division. But he’s taking a leave to support his father during the trial; Vincent plans to blog daily from the federal courthouse. He says he got permission from his father and his father’s lawyer to do it, just like he got permission to give an interview to me. By stepping into a public role for the first time in his life, he’s reclaiming his mantle as a Fumo. “You know, when my dad had his heart attack,” says Vincent II, “and I was there, and it was, who’s going to talk to the press? I was like, ‘I’m going to talk to the press.’ I was freaked out and terrified. [But] everybody was like, wow — now your father has a family.”

VINCE TALKED about loyalty for 30 years. Balls and brains, loyalty and leverage. He said it was the core of him. He said it so many times, he convinced us that he really meant it. That’s the stunning thing: He didn’t. At least, not in the sense of loyalty as a two-way street, generosity begetting gratitude, and on and on in a virtuous chain. Vince did help a lot of people get their start in politics. Many of these people love and revere him. But the fact that he helped people is incidental, as his family saga suggests. For Vince, loyalty was about control. It was about getting his way — not just with the city and the state, but with his own son, his own daughter, his son-in-law, his ex-wife. Loyalty was just a word — a convenient explanation for his deep need to dominate and complicate everything around him.