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We've met the enemy, and he is us

CONSPIRACY, WIRE FRAUD, mail fraud, obstruction of justice. Former state Sen. Vincent J. Fumo was found guilty, guilty, guilty, and guilty of it all yesterday.

CONSPIRACY, WIRE FRAUD, mail fraud, obstruction of justice. Former state Sen. Vincent J. Fumo was found guilty, guilty, guilty, and guilty of it all yesterday.

Once a federal grand jury saw the evidence of his over-the-top arrogance, it was a clean sweep for the prosecution. Fumo was convicted on all 137 counts against him and co-defendant Ruth Arnao was convicted on 45 other counts of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

There was an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against Fumo. That would be the city that spawned him, took what he delivered and then pretended to be shocked, shocked at the unsavory details of how he manipulated the process.

That, of course, would be Philadelphia. That, of course, would be us.

Power corrupts, and the legendary power that Vince Fumo built corrupted him mightily. But the strain of corruption that infected Fumo was not the kind that is cured by ethics reform, campaign-finance limits or registration of lobbyists. It was the price we paid for our own lack of civic engagement. It was way easier and much more reliable to let Vince take care of our interests in Harrisburg, which he did well.

In more than 30 years in office, Fumo placed friends in positions of power, protected political allies from challenge and steered lucrative contracts to his favorites. In the process, he created a web of personal and financial loyalty, and a savvy staff that worked the state capital better than anyone else.

He wasn't called the Vince of Darkness for nothing: Crossing Fumo carried a cost few were willing to pay.

Even without a MENSA proof of his genius IQ, Fumo was, indeed, the smartest guy in the room.

Make no mistake, he made good things happen, and brought benefits to Philadelphia that it would not have had otherwise, and may not see again, at least in that magnitude: SEPTA was saved, kids got TransPasses to take to magnet schools, payday lenders were kept out of the state. Fumo defended reproductive rights when they were seriously threatened, and championed gays against discrimination.

No wonder he came to think that he was entitled to the vacuum cleaners and the power tools, the yacht trips and the laptops. They were the trappings of power, a power that benefited more than Fumo.

In the end, Fumo - who beat a corruption conviction in 1984 on a technicality - was brought down by changing times: unscrubbed e-mails that allowed jurors to see the hubris usually visible only to those who needed him.

In his early years in politics, Vince Fumo liked to say that the worst part of a politician's life was to be "middled" - to be torn among conflicting loyalties. Today, as we look at the wreckage of Fumo's life and career, it's easy to speculate how he became "middled" between delivering good things for the city and his sense of being owed something in return. Not so obvious is how we as a community also were middled: between the principles of honesty and integrity that we say we want from our politicians and the very real advantages of having Vince Fumo take care of our needs in Harrisburg. *