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Editorial: After Fumo

Power vacuum

Fumo's former legislative post is now filled by a Pittsburgh lawmaker.
Fumo's former legislative post is now filled by a Pittsburgh lawmaker.Read moreMATT ROURKE / Associated Press

Now that former state Sen. Vincent Fumo's retirement from the legislature is official, as of Monday, the city of Philadelphia can further contemplate how it will fare without the Indicted One.

It may have gotten an inkling a couple of weeks ago, when a legislative post from which Fumo used his considerable clout to legally bring home the bacon to Philadelphia was snagged by a Pittsburgher. The new minority chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee is state Sen. Jay Costa Jr. (D., Allegheny).

Perhaps Costa has a soft spot in his heart for Philadelphia; after all, he reportedly contributed $20,000 to the Philly guy who won Fumo's Senate seat - Larry Farnese. But it's a safer bet that Pittsburgh has dibs on Costa, whose brother Guy Costa is that city's public-works director. Jay Costa also helped broker the deal that has the state paying $7.5 million a year for 30 years, out of gambling revenues, to build the new Pittsburgh Penguins hockey arena.

Given Fumo's current legal predicament - on trial in federal court for allegedly misspending taxpayer money on himself - perhaps Philadelphia should not have expected to get back his former appropriations post. But, although a long shot, that might have happened had city Democrats gotten their act together.

Instead, the legislative delegation couldn't agree among themselves on who should be their candidate. Sen. Anthony Williams was the early favorite, but Sens. Vincent J. Hughes and Michael Stack III balked at that. By the time the delegation agreed to back a compromise candidate, Sen. Leanna Washington, it was too late for her to garner the already-hard-to-get votes from non-Philadelphians that she would need to win.

In the past, the political clout of the mayor or the city's Democratic party chairman might have gotten the legislative delegation in line earlier. But Mayor Nutter and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, for whatever reasons, didn't play that role.

So the chairmanship went to Costa, with Stack getting a consolation prize - the new post of vice minority appropriations chair, created by party floor leader Robert J. Mellow (D., Scranton). Hughes says Mellow's support secured the job for Costa. Mellow also named Hughes caucus chair. Perhaps in those spots, Hughes and Stack can make sure Philadelphia isn't hurt by Harrisburg's traditionally anti-city bias.

Of course, Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) remains majority chair of the House Appropriations Committee. And yes, Gov. Rendell is a former Philadelphia mayor, but he is entering lame-duck status.

Fumo boasted when he stepped down from the appropriations job last year that his work had brought $8 billion to the Philadelphia region. It's preferable that taxpayer money go where it's most needed, not to whoever has the most clout. But the reality of Harrisburg is that we're not there yet.