"In retrospect, I wish I never got elected to the Senate."
Is there anyone more petty than a powerful local politician? In the annals of modern Pennsylvania politics, no legislator has proved more powerful or as petty as former Democratic State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo.
Fumo's lament about his three-decade Harrisburg career came on his fourth day on the stand in his federal corruption trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Pease methodically chipped away at the great man the way a sculptor might attack a massive block of marble.
What does the sculpture reveal? On the stand, Fumo is proud, combative, and, on occasion, remorseful. He's expansive about politics and terse about behavior.
There's no question that Fumo did much for Philadelphia, routing millions our way, wielding power like a venerable duke. In return, he believed that he was entitled to live and operate like one. At what cost? Well, for one, it appears, the taxpayers'. Fumo's approach was a lot of money for us, a little off the top for himself.
His 27-room mansion was dubbed "the Green Street project." Senate staffers were asked to work on it as rigorously as on an appropriations matter.
His charity, Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, "my baby," was funded with $17 million in "private Peco money" after he challenged the utility in court and before state regulators.
Some might call this extortion. Others might dub it Pennsylvania politics, people like Fumo "frenemy" Gov. Rendell, who said, "Gosh, I'm outraged that I didn't think of it first." When the settlement was first revealed in The Inquirer, Fumo testified, "I felt badly for Peco. I felt badly for myself. I did not want that amount revealed."
That Vince, always putting Philadelphians first.
The Peco money paid for better neighborhoods - specifically South Philadelphia, where Fumo was raised and had his office, and the Spring Garden area where he lives in "the Green Street project." On the stand, he admitted deriving $63,000 in perks and gifts from the charity.
To be fair, Citizens' also contributed to the War Dog Memorial in Bristol Township and, now, the considerable legal bills of Fumo co-defendant Ruth Arnao.
Fumo is a complex man who creates complex relations. He refers to staff as family, but treated them like serfs.
"You requested people to do these things," Pease stated repeatedly. "I asked people," Fumo countered. Then again, you might call a boss' e-mail typed in all caps with a fusillade of 22 exclamation points an ultimatum.
He made no distinction between the personal and the political. Everything was "interspersed and intertwined." Fumo understood the rules. If only to bend them.
Which explains ordering staff to FedEx such crucial Senate material as Sebastian hair spray and the book The Wonderful World of Llamas to his winter home in Florida. You paid for that, too.
Fumo Love goes only so far. He referred to one staffer's gambling problems, another's paranoia, a third's emotional instability.
The question arises: Who isn't Fumo willing to throw under a bus to advance his agenda, his world view? What we're watching in this trial is a last hurrah, the big boss with diminishing power.
Fumo is estranged from his daughter, Nicole. Her husband, Christian Marrone, was Fumo's employee. He's now a government star witness. Fumo expected Marrone to work for him 24/7 on personal and political matters in FumoWorld, where everything becomes one and the One is always Vince.
If you treat a staff like dogs - not the Bristol Township War Dog Memorial, mind you - you might expect to wake up with government bugs.
Fumo did plenty for Philadelphia. A lot for himself, too. Take a good look. We may not see his kind again.