Herbert Fineman, 96, of Wynnefield, a Philadelphia Democrat who rose to the rank of speaker of the Pennsylvania House and modernized that institution, but was forced to resign because of a corruption scandal, died Thursday, Aug. 18, at his home.
Mr. Fineman, who was elected speaker an unprecedented four times, was instrumental in creating the state income tax and seeing that much of its funds were sent to city schools, hospitals, and museums.
In 1977, he was convicted on two counts of obstruction of justice in a federal case involving influence peddling. He spent 111/2 months in prison.
"Herb Fineman was the most able legislator I covered in some 20 years in Harrisburg," said William Ecenbarger, who covered state government for the Inquirer. "He brought the Pennsylvania General Assembly into the modern era. Tragically, he lost his way and succumbed to a venal scheme that landed him in prison. He never recovered from the experience."
Joseph P. McLaughlin, who served as Mr. Fineman's spokesman, recalled a workaholic boss who would rather read legislative bills at night than be wined and dined by lobbyists.
"The key to his influence was that he worked harder and knew more than anybody else," said McLaughlin, now an associate vice dean of Temple University's College of Liberal Arts.
Before Mr. Fineman's leadership, House members did not have offices, and they had to stand in line in the back of the House chamber to use phones. They only got stamps to reply to constituent mail if they voted the way their leaders wanted. They kept bills and other documents in paper bags in the trunks of their cars.
Mr. Fineman changed all that. He brought in professionals with graduate degrees to serve as staff. He gave committees the actual power to shape legislation, and he opened their meetings to the public.
His reforms were widely recognized in state government circles, and in 1973 he was elected president of the National Conference of State Legislative Leaders.
He also caught the eye of federal investigators.
On Jan. 21, 1977, Mr. Fineman was indicted on charges of accepting payments from parents trying to get their children into graduate schools at state-supported universities.
A jury acquitted Mr. Fineman on the more serious counts, but convicted him of trying to get officials at two medical schools to destroy letters he wrote on behalf of applicants.
At the time, he was the highest-ranking Pennsylvania elected official to go to prison.
He was born on July 4, 1920, in Philadelphia. His father was a Russian Jew and his mother came from Vineland, N.J.
He was Overbrook High School's valedictorian in 1938. He got a bachelor's degree and then a law degree from Temple University, and established a practice that was interrupted by his conviction.
He is survived by a daughter, Jan Zolten; a son, Jon; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. His wife of 72 years, Frances, died in June.
The funeral will be private.