Fumo says farewell to state senate

July 4, 2008 6:41:15 PM PDT
Sen. Vincent Fumo, a 30-year state senator from Philadelphia, said Friday that he will not return to the Senate before his term ends this year as he prepares to fight federal corruption charges. Fumo, 65, made the announcement on the Senate floor during an unusual holiday session in which the chamber is finishing up the state budget before it takes its traditional two-month summer break from Harrisburg.

"I will miss it terribly. I spent half my life here and I spent it here with every fiber in my body," the Democrat said. "I've loved it, I've hated it. I've had great experiences and very sad ones."

Fumo, who isn't running for re-election, faces trial in September and his term officially ends in November. Fumo referred to the trial as a "another challenge," and said he will fight it.

A banker's son from South Philadelphia, Fumo entered the Senate in 1978 and quickly rose to power as a deft politician, fundraiser and advocate for the city of Philadelphia. As the longtime Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Fumo also commanded substantial influence over what received state funding, and what did not.

Even adversaries acknowledge that Fumo could manipulate the political process so effectively that he usually got what he wanted, even while serving with the minority Democrats. His imprint is on virtually every major Pennsylvania law signed in the past two decades, including the state's school funding formula and the 2004 law that legalized slot-machine gambling.

"I was always taught that to whom God gives the most, he expects the most," Fumo said. "I've been given a lot. I hope I've given back a lot."

Gov. Ed Rendell, a fellow Philadelphia Democrat, said Fumo's departure, under the circumstances, was saddening.

"Vince Fumo can be a very difficult, very aggravating person, no doubt about that," Rendell said Friday at a ceremony to sign the state budget. "But often he's difficult and aggravating because he's fighting for the most vulnerable of our citizens."

Last year, federal prosecutors in Philadelphia unveiled a 139-charge indictment alleging that he defrauded the state Senate, a seaport museum and a nonprofit by using their staff and assets to do his personal and political work.

He announced in March that he would not run for re-election, citing the "cloud hanging over my head."

Fumo maintains his innocence. He has beaten criminal charges twice before, including once when the trial judge vacated the conviction in 1981.