IT SHOULD surprise no one that Vince Fumo makes news - sometimes only using his mouth.

It's not like it's the first time.

Who can forget him calling a fellow state Senate leader a "faggot"?

Or calling Tom Ridge "a buffoon"?

Or John Dougherty "evil"?

I could go on.

But this latest thing - labeling the Legislature a collection of racists who, given the chance, would legalize slavery - makes one wonder.

Knowing state lawmakers as I do, I doubt that they'd go much beyond a few modified Jim Crow laws.

So what set Fumo off?

Stress of facing that 139-count indictment and a fall corruption trial?

Off his meds?

Jealous that he's not in the thick of the national discussion on race and looking to emerge as the "Anti-Wright?"

Or just a wish to go out with guns blazing as he winds down his 30-year Senate career after saying in March that he isn't seeking re-election?

If you missed it, and it's hard to think you did, Vince this week said, "If we introduced a bill on slavery, it might pass."

This was at a Senate hearing on a gay-marriage ban, and Vince was arguing that just because a legislative body approves something doesn't make it right.

The remark came during testimony in support of the ban by Bishop Gilbert Coleman Jr., senior pastor of Philly's Freedom Christian Bible Fellowship.

Coleman, who is African-American, told Fumo he doubted a slavery bill would pass.

But Fumo, in an apparent effort to make a bad thing worse, said, "Oh, don't bet on it in this General Assembly. I know some people up here, especially on a secret ballot, it would be almost unanimous."


Even for Vince, this seems extreme.

Some suggest he's playing to a jury pool, though it would have to be a pretty shallow pool.

Others say Vince is just being Vince.

One Senate aide quipped: "When he's good, he's good. When he's bad, he's scary bad."

Yesterday, Fumo issued a brief statement saying, in part, "I was obviously exaggerating to make a point. . . . I wanted people at the hearing to face the fact that denying human rights to any group, including homosexuals, at any point in our history, including 2008, is wrong."

Fair enough, I guess.

But lots of sensible people were, if not surprised, offended.

(Coleman was out of the office yesterday; an aide did not return calls.)

"Totally unacceptable," said fellow Philly Sen. Anthony Williams, a member of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.

"And my view of my colleagues is they are not closet racists," he said, "They may not know everything about black culture . . . [but] I don't know the Amish and I don't hate them."

Fumo friends say that Vince was taking a passionate stand for his constituents - his Senate district probably has the largest gay and lesbian population in the state.

But Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland tells me: "It was very insensitive from such a senior senator. It's unfortunate folks don't stick to the issue at hand . . . to equate it [a gay marriage ban] with slavery is wrong."

Asked if he thinks the Legislature is racist, Kirkland said, "No, I don't."

Senate GOP Leader Dominic Pileggi said that if Fumo actually believes a majority of the Senate would vote to reinstate slavery, "It's hard to see how that wouldn't require an apology."

I wouldn't count on it. Unless it's one of those "if I offended anyone" things.

Besides, Vince is merely extending (though by some distance) Gov. Ed's stated view that some Pennsylvania whites won't vote for blacks.

And Gov. Ed's spokesman assures me that if the Legislature passes a slavery bill, the governor will veto it. *

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