Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Karen Heller: Rendell and Fumo take the stand

Finally, after what feels like 16 years but in actuality is only 16 weeks, the onetime Prince of Pennsylvania - Vincent J. Fumo, by name - took the stand yesterday in his federal corruption trial.

Finally, after what feels like 16 years but in actuality is only 16 weeks, the onetime Prince of Pennsylvania - Vincent J. Fumo, by name - took the stand yesterday in his federal corruption trial.

Like Garbo, like Prince, Vince finally speaks!

But first, a brief visit from Gov. Rendell. Wooing the jury as only a honey-tongued former district attorney can, Rendell said of Fumo, "He was very similar, in many ways, to myself, in the sense that his job became his life." And: "He was always on." When lawyer Dennis J. Cogan asked if Fumo would "twist your arm," Rendell laughed. "Twist my arm might be mild."

Rendell did Fumo no favors when, unprompted, he brought up former Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland, who went to prison for corruption after blurring the lines between political work and personal expenses, a practice cited in the 139 counts Fumo faces now.

"He was a great governor, but he made a serious mistake," Rendell said of Rowland. "One mistake and it's over."

He went on that, in the law, "there are no exceptions for effectiveness and no exceptions for working hard. The rules are the rules."

Rendell was testifying for the defense. With character witnesses like this . . .

Inside FumoWorld

On the stand, Fumo was somber yet personable and expansive, his voice an alto scratch. He would take frequent verbal peregrinations on any number of subjects, going off-question, offering a five-minute answer when five words would do. Many were the times that lawyers, on both sides, asked him to return to the task at hand.

"I can go into depth," Fumo said.

"No, don't do that," Cogan admonished.

Fumo described an approach where "everything in my life was intertwined," he said. "I don't know how to run an organization without that familial methodology," he said. He referred to staff as family members. He spoke sadly of family members who are now estranged.

The intensity, loyalty and sheer energy Fumo demanded from subordinates bordered on the military. Lieutenants signed up for ceaseless hours and constant demands, more than a few suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

"In politics, there are few secrets," Fumo testified. But he tried to keep some. On Monday, many spilled into the courtroom, some almost painfully private.

He apologized for spying on his older daughter's e-mail, for writing communiques drowned in profanity, for hiring an investigator to spy on a former girlfriend because she was just not that into him. "I was heartbroken. I was jealous. I was in love." Of hiring the investigator, "I'm not proud of it," Fumo said, though he said he had no idea the bills were paid by the Pennsylvania Senate. That is, by you and me.

"I was screwed up as a kid myself and that spilled over into adulthood," he read from a letter he had written to daughter Nicole. "It took years and years of therapy to try and get me to figure out where I had screwed up my life and that I needed medication." Nicole later disinvited Fumo to her wedding to his onetime protege Christian Marrone, who served as one of the government's chief witnesses against him. Fumo and his daughter haven't spoken in two years.

In the chair, on the couch

When Fumo entered politics 30 years ago, he was eager to make a difference, to not "be a back-bencher," to hold power and wield it.

"The more power you can accumulate, the more you can get done," he said, in one of his many Machiavellian principles offered during testimony.

"I am, contrary to my media image, a very, very shy person," Fumo said. "I have a fear of rejection, not just with women, but in general."

He simply could not parse the political and the personal, keep them separate, "keep a log." No one ever asked him to. In his world, his former life, it's all one.

"Maybe it's good that I resigned," he said of leaving the Senate last fall, "because I would not know how to live under that standard today."