Power: Fumo, After the Fall

The most powerful politician in Philadelphia is heading to jail. In an exclusive interview, Vince Fumo talks about the agony of his trial, and why he still doesn’t know what he did that was so wrong.

An iron gate and a pair of concrete eagles guard Vince Fumo’s brownstone mansion on Green Street. Hit the buzzer on the intercom, and after a short conversation with the owner, the gate slowly whirs open.

Fumo’s fabulously restored four-story mansion — with five bedrooms, 10 baths, seven fireplaces, Jacuzzi, wine cellar and underground shooting range — is on sale for $5 million, down from the original asking price two years ago of $7 million. But so far, nobody’s bidding.

“Not one bite,” Fumo says as he stands in the doorway under a flickering gas lantern.

After more than 30 years as a state senator, Fumo was convicted in March of 137 federal counts of fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and filing a false tax return. On this night, he’s just a few weeks away from being sentenced to 55 months in prison (and ordered to pay $2.4 million in fines and restitution). His uncertain fate could be why prospective buyers have been holding off. Castle Fumo may be guarded by eagles, but when it comes to prospective buyers, “Everybody’s sitting around like vultures, waiting for me to go down and then they’ll get it,” Fumo says. “They’re expecting a fire sale.”

Tonight, however, the only fire at the mansion is in the belly of the former senator’s Viking Professional range. He’s ready to broil a couple of T-bone steaks medium-rare. He’s also fussing with side dishes: roasted potatoes, spinach e olio, and a tomato salad with feta.  

Once a regular at La Veranda on Columbus Boulevard, Fumo finds solace these days in cooking at home, usually for family and friends. As with any Fumo project, the self-confessed obsessive-compulsive has thrown himself into it. He’s collected more than 160 cookbooks and frequently TiVo’s the chefs on the Food Network. He’s been interested in cooking since he was a kid helping his Irish mother make ravioli for his Italian father. She had a special juice glass reserved for a dough mold, Fumo recalls: “My job was pressing the fork around the edges of the ravioli. I enjoyed it.” His specialties include lentil soup, his mother’s Irish lamb stew, and her “phenomenal oyster stuffing for turkey.”

Carolyn Zinni, the woman Fumo became engaged to in early July, shares his passion for food. “We really love cooking. We’d rather do that than go out,” Fumo says. “It’s like dueling. Her whole family cooks. I make a good gravy, but Carolyn’s is better. She makes a straight marinara.”

Fumo’s coloring looks better than at his trial, where he was often ghostly pale; he’s also lost a few pounds, although it’s not a diet, but stress. Being on the receiving end of a massive federal indictment, he says while gnawing on his T-bone, was “kinda like when a doctor tells you you’ve got cancer. You can crawl in a hole and die, or you can fight it.”