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Clout | A tour of Fumoland: Who's in, who's out?

OK, LET'S take a look at the state First Senatorial District, which stretches from Fairmount to South Philly. Up for re-nomination in the April primary is state Sen. Vince Fumo.

OK, LET'S take a look at the state First Senatorial District, which stretches from Fairmount to South Philly.

Up for re-nomination in the April primary is state Sen. Vince Fumo.

He's under indictment for fraud with a trial originally set for February, which made his enemies think he'd be out. But the trial was postponed, which makes him in.

Joe Vignola says he's in too, but Fumo says Vignola will be out.

Anne Dicker is definitely in, but says Vignola tried to get her out.

John Dougherty says people try to pull him in, but he's out and isn't sure who's in.

Vignola says Dicker's campaign manager accused him of being in to help Fumo by diluting the opposition. But others point to support of Vignola by Dougherty ally Vern Anastasio and say Vignola is in because Doc decided to be out.

Confused yet?

Let's start with Vignola, who's quietly been putting together a campaign team, but won't announce until after Jan. 1. His decision to run, he says, has nothing to do with Fumo or Dougherty.

"It has been an evolving process and at the appropriate time I'll stake out why I think I'd be the best candidate for the [district]," Vignola said. "I think people want to change the face of state government to be more open and more transparent."

That reform message is resonating, most recently in the election last month of Mayor-elect Michael Nutter. But Dicker, a feminine face of reform in Philadelphia, has been running for months against Fumo on that very same platform. Doesn't the presence of two opponents with the same message help Fumo?

"No doubt, him getting into the race benefits no one but Vince Fumo," said Dicker.

Dicker said news of Vignola's interest surprised her so she arranged a sit-down last week to find out why Vignola was running.

"He just looked at me and said, 'Why don't you get out of the race?' " Dicker said. "It was just really weird and strange and aggressive."

Dicker said she told him, "I am running, whether it's a three-person race or a five-person race. I'm running to beat Vince Fumo. I'm a woman on a mission."

Vignola denies asking Dicker to get out. He was merely recounting a story about when the late former Mayor Frank Rizzo asked him to get out of the controller's race in 1983.

When we called Vignola a longshot to beat Fumo, a master politician, he shot us down by noting that he's won seven of eight elections for city controller and City Council. His only losing effort was for the U.S. Senate in 1988 when he had to contend with a billionaire incumbent, Sen. John Heinz, and a weak presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, at the top of the Dem ticket.

"If you look at some races I've entered into with multiple candidates, I don't think I'm a longshot at all," Vignola said.

Fumo spokesman Gary Tuma said, "Sen. Fumo, who has lost zero elections, doesn't think Joe Vignola will run because he doesn't believe that Mr. Vignola has the wherewithal to do so."

Interesting word, "wherewithal."

"But right now Sen. Fumo is concentrating on legislative issues prior to the end of the year . . . and won't turn his attention to the campaign until later."

Dougherty, a past Fumo foe, says he has no horse in this race.

"It's way too early," he said. "I'm waiting to see what the field looks like."

So far, it looks very interesting.

Challenger II: The Platt plan

Now, here's another challenge to an incumbent: Philadelphia magazine editor Larry Platt is growing ever more serious about unseating U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., in the western suburbs.

"I'm probably a lot closer to doing it," Platt, 44, told us.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is also leaning his way.

Clout believes a journalist running for office is like Merrill Reese lining up at right tackle for the Eagles.

You can know the game like an expert, but actually blocking a 295-pound defensive lineman is a whole 'nother thing.

Gerlach has already hammered Platt in a fund-raising letter, calling him opportunistic and inexperienced.

Platt's reaction? "Cool! There's a bald, goateed Jew taking up space in his head."

Challenger III: The doctor is in

Dr. Keith Leaphart signaled his potential bid to oust U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Pa., with a major league fund raiser last night at Loews Hotel.

Hosts Gerry Lenfest and Peter Buttenwieser are All-Star fundraisers. The goal was $100,000.

But Leaphart, 32, a West Oak Lane physician, stumbled out of the gate last week when the fund raiser invite listed civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., as "invited speaker."

Lewis knew nothing about it and quickly demanded a retraction.

Leaphart also will have to explain his failure to vote in six of the last eight elections.

"I think life's a learning process," he said.

Another broken promise

In January, when Gov. Rendell unveiled a heavyweight plan to provide health care insurance for all Pennsylvanians, he said he'd lead the way to a healthier state by losing 25 pounds.

We were told he then weighed 238, which we thought an optimistic estimate. So, as he now renews his push for a major health plan, it was time to see if he'd kept his promise.

We asked spokesman Chuck Ardo what's hizzoner weigh?

"If I had to guess, 253," said Ardo.

Which means now he's got to lose 40 pounds to keep his promise.

Chapman: A Nutter addition

This is so inevitable, we can't believe it hasn't happened yet.

Julia Chapman, Mayor-elect Michael Nutter's chief of staff when he was on City Council, will be joining his administration in a senior post.

Expect the announcement sooner rather than later. *

Staff writers Gar Joseph and John M. Baer contributed to this report.