REMEMBER "New Coke?"

There might be a "New Vince."

And I mean professionally and personally.

There's a new (age appropriate) girlfriend: Delco dress shop owner Carolyn Zinni. There's a new (slightly longer) hair style.

And the (how to put this?) historically loose cannon on the deck of life is now a regular churchgoer: St. Francis Xavier near his Green Street mansion or Old St. Joseph's in Society Hill.

Plus, millionaire, Machiavellian, Mensa-member Vincent J. Fumo is on a man-of-the-people mission.

Hmmm. Wonder why?

The ultimate deal-making insider, under federal indictment, charged with abusing his office and access to tax dollars, and under attack by a hungry challenger to his 30-year political reign, is all over the place these days on the side of the common man.

Pick your issue: reform, guns, casinos. He just wants to help.

He claims it's nothing new.

"I'm always portrayed as Darth Vader, but if you look at my record I've worn a white hat a lot," says The Vince.

He and supporters are quick to note he's been there for the little guy: fighting for SEPTA, medical assistance, stopping winter utility shut-offs, attacking predatory payday lending and more.

Still, the "white hat" lately seems a permanent part of his wardrobe.

It's like a pitch to a jury 10 months before his scheduled trial.

Or an appeal to constituents five months before his primary election.

Could it be the usually confident state senator is more than just a little worried?

Could it be Democratic challenger Anne Dicker - already launching attack ads - presents more than just a little threat?

Whatever it is, Fumo's fighting it.

Last week, he was a visible lone vote against a new open records law (PA, of course, ranks near the bottom nationally in public access to government records). He said it "doesn't go far enough" in giving the public access to legislative records.

Does anyone else see the irony here?

He's introducing a tough new gun law to require at least a year in prison for carrying a firearm without a license; he'll now support restricting handgun sales to one a month - this from a lifetime member of the NRA.

And he's heavily involved in efforts certain to further delay opening Philly's casinos, this after authoring the law to create them.

He's legally opposing, for example, a former campaign contributor, Blue Bell developer Peter DePaul, part owner of Foxwoods. De-Paul wants to overturn the portion of the state gambling law banning casino owners from making donations to politicians.

The guy's a friend who gave Vince money and Vince is lining up against him. Sound like Vince?

Speaking of which, he's siding with neighborhood opponents to the city's other planned casino, SugarHouse, where his longtime (now former) lawyer Dick Sprague (and Sprague's family) holds an interest.

Vince is party, in other words, to costing Sprague (and family) dough.

Who'd a thunk it?

He argues none of this is odd.

Says he pushed reforms before, such as internal changes to open the legislative process. Says he's been active on guns before, noting $5 million he got for a targeted state/city effort that so far netted 97 arrests of illegal dealers. And he says casino owners just aren't playing by the rules.

(Sprague, I say, must be thrilled with you.

"Yeah," says Vince, "he loves me.")

I've watched Fumo the bulk of his career: lots of action, lots of issues.

I don't doubt his current actions on multiple issues are aimed at his own salvation.

Does it work?

Well, in five months and then five more, we'll see if the "New Vince" sells any better than the "New Coke" did. *

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

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