Pulse: Chatter: Romances: Mystery Date

Between the media circus surrounding Vince Fumo and the dirt unearthed at his trial, we know everything about him, right? Well, yeah — except for: Who’s that girl?

It’s so not easy playing princess to the Prince of South Philly these days: Whatever fun there was in being photographed arm-in-arm with Vince Fumo, it must have waned as headlines accompanying the former senator’s photo became more dismal (Indictment! Trial!) leading up to March’s final verdict: guilty on 137 counts of corruption, and potentially more than 10 years behind bars. And yet in countless pictures snapped as an increasingly sunken Fumo headed to and from the courtroom, there’s Carolyn Zinni, the steady and stunning girlfriend, her hand firmly enveloped in his.

Harder still: Amidst the very public fray, Zinni, 51, had  —  and has  —  her business to tend to, running Zinni’s, a family dress shop. Spring is the season of prom gowns (her bread-and-butter), and her Springfield boutique sits cheek-to-jowl with a tanning salon and a shoe store. It’s a siren song for teenage girls these days. Tan and svelte in a black spaghetti-strap tank, Zinni fits and flits easily among her youthful employees and shoppers. Sweetly polite (even while shooing away this reporter), she’s the picture of success, with a lucrative business and the kind of looks that people talk about. Still, beyond the shop and the Fumo shots, the public dossier on the striking brunette consists of the barest of facts, not one of which seems to address this: What’s a nice (well, depending on whom you ask) girl like her doing with a sinking ship like Vince?

Zinni grew up in the neighborhood, in the Girard Estates section of South Philly. Vinceland. Her parents’ dress shop, the original Zinni’s, was located for years on East Passyunk, just around the corner from Fumo’s Tasker Street headquarters. (In an Inquirer article from October, Zinni’s sister Maria admitted that the family knew Fumo, who turns 66 this month, long before Carolyn started seeing him seriously a year and a half ago.) Like Fumo, she was married before  —  once to a doctor with whom she had two sons; later, to a local policeman. Fumo isn’t even Zinni’s first foray into the political sphere: Before the state senator, she dated city councilman Frank DiCicco, with whom she is said to remain close friends.  

But aside from occasional mutterings among the South Philly old guard about those Zinni girls’ champagne tastes and snooty stores, Carolyn has managed to maintain a remarkably low profile. If she’s seen her South Philly status rise (or fall) since she’s been dating the legend, you wouldn’t know it by looking: Even the lone Facebook photo she’s posted alluding to her beau seems oddly, well, normal  —  a sleepy, loafer-clad Fumo splayed across a boat deck with the caption “My Honey Chillin.”

“I’ve never seen two people more in love,” exults Marissa Allen, a longtime employee at Zinni’s boutique. Fumo, for his part, has credited Zinni with saving his life by insisting on calling 911 when he had a heart attack last year  —  a harrowing bonding experience for the couple. And she seemed to hit it off with the power crowd, becoming a regular, if quiet, fixture at dinners and events. “She is genuine, sweet, and a kind lady who is truly in love with Vince,” raves one Fumo friend. Which leads to perhaps an even more compelling question than the Finni (Zumo?) phenomenon: What will become of the lovebirds if  —  when  —  he does time?

“She’ll stay with him,” predicts the pal. “I think she’s loyal.”

If that’s true, it doesn’t look like we can expect juicy tell-all stories or My Life With Vince, the novel, anytime soon. Though who knows? A decade’s a long time to wait  —  even for a prince.