R ETIRED

Daily News

reporter

Joseph R. Daughen

, co-author of landmark books on

Frank Rizzo

and the demise of the Penn Central Railroad, is back in print with a book on another Philadelphia institution, attorney

Richard A. Sprague

.

Daughen is among the few reporters who ever gained Sprague's friendship and respect, and it's clear from the 242 pages that the feelings are mutual. Sprague "exercised no editorial control and had no veto power over the material," Daughen writes, but "was a fully cooperative subject" and provided any files Daughen requested. "The guy is my friend and I viewed this mostly as a labor of friendship."

Titled Fearless: The Richard A. Sprague Story, the book hopscotches through cases and other highlights of Sprague's 50-plus-year career. It was published by the American Bar Association, part of a legal settlement after an ABA publication described Sprague as a "lawyer-cum-fixer." Sprague sued, winning a half-page apology and an undisclosed amount of cash from the ABA.

Like Daughen's work throughout his 50-year reporting career, the book is carefully documented and straightforward, filled with insightful details on City Hall, politics and the news media.

It includes chapters on Sprague's first murder case, against a 14-year-old boy who shot his friend's abusive father in 1957; Sprague's prosecution of United Mine Workers leader Tony Boyle for the execution of union rival Jock Yablonski; his stint investigating the John F. Kennedy assassination for a committee of the U. S. House of Representatives; his record-setting libel award against the Inquirer for a story alleging that Sprague had improperly cleared the son of a friend in a murder case, and a previously unreported account of how Sprague and a former Inquirer editor John Gillen advised Rizzo on his political career during weekly lunches in the late 1960s.

The book made its debut at last weekend's Pennsylvania Society gathering in New York City. John Dougherty, business manager of the electricians union, bought hundreds of copies and passed them out as party favors. It was one last shot at state Sen. Vince Fumo, whose long friendship with Sprague fell apart in a dispute over Fumo's legal fees.

Among the missing

The most-noticed no-show at the Pennsylvania Society was NBC's Chris Matthews, still attempting to straddle the line between overpaid political commentator and panhandling candidate.

But Clout is interested in another political figure who wasn't there - former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey.

After taking on U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in 2004 and getting 49 percent of the Republican vote, Toomey is widely thought to be interested in facing Specter again. But Clout hears that Toomey is also looking at the race for governor, a post that would keep him closer to his home and family in Zionsville, outside Allentown, and spare him the annoying commute to Washington, where his national nonprofit organization, the Club for Growth, is headquartered.

"He's considering all his options right now," said Nachama Soloveichik, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit, which has developed a national base for reduced government and taxes.

Another source said there was no point to Toomey's visiting the Pennsylvania Society until he decided what office he's seeking. He'd annoy half the people he would talk with. As Karl Rove used to advise President Bush, indecision looks weak.

Gerlach for what?

Turning to pols who made it to New York, what's with U. S. Rep. Jim Gerlach? On the eve of the annual gabfest, he sends reporters an e-mail adding himself to the crowded

field of potential aspirants for governor.

Don't believe it, says an analyst Clout respects. Gerlach, 53, just re-elected to his fourth term, is doubtless tired of grinding out his congressional races every two years, but enjoys Washington and wants to stay there, this source speculates.

Putting his name out for governor gets him a statewide audience that will put his name in circulation for a U.S. Senate seat if Specter shows any sign of faltering in 2010. And the gubernatorial talk does nothing to ruffle Specter.

Tough time for Republicans

You'd think that being a two-term governor and the nation's first secretary of Homeland Security might give Tom Ridge a little star power.

You'd be wrong.

Ridge passed along this ego-deflating anecdote at the Pennsylvania Society doings.

"I enjoy getting out in my garden on the weekends," he said. "So this one day I'm dressed in jeans and an old shirt. I've been working all day, I'm sweaty, dirty. I take the car to get gas."

Parked at the pump in front of Ridge is a little old lady struggling with her gas cap.

"So I offered to help," he said. "I removed the cap, asked her what grade of gas she wanted and I started filling the tank."

As he was finishing up, the woman looks at him for a long moment.

"I'm thinking, 'Ah, here it comes, she's going to say, "Aren't you the secretary of Homeland Security?" ' She looks at me, reaches into her purse. Then she hands me two dollars and says, 'Thank you.' " *

Staff writers Bob Warner and Gar Joseph contributed to this report.

Have a news tip? Gossip? Suggestion? Contact Bob Warner at warnerb@phillynews.com, call 215-854-5885, or fax 215-854-5910.