Fumo was corrupt, but city allowed it

Politicians are a favorite punching bag for citizens throughout the country. They are ridiculed for being greedy, incompetent and dishonest, and sometimes they deserve those accusations.

The politicians we love to hate are there for a reason. Specifically, we put them there, and we choose to keep them there, even when we know they may be greedy or dishonest.

Such is the case with Vince Fumo, the former state senator from South Philadelphia. Fumo was probably the most powerful man in the state Senate, and for good reason. His influence spread from people in the Board of Revision of Taxes to people in the Delaware River Port Authority to various nonprofits.

In what may be a sign of just how powerful Fumo was before he was convicted of 137 counts of conspiracy and fraud, local politicians were fairly measured in their reactions to Fumo’s conviction.
Mayor Michael Nutter called the outcome shocking even though the guilty verdicts were, if not virtually certain, at least a pretty good bet.

Philadelphia politicians were measured in their words perhaps because they realized that Fumo not only brought money into the city, but he was responsible for the success of quite a few political careers.

The average Philadelphian can afford to be more callous, and if the sometimes-caustic messages on comment walls of articles about the Fumo conviction are any indication, the average Philadelphian really does feel a little more callous about Fumo than the politicians do.

We probably shouldn’t, considering Philadelphians knew Fumo had a sketchy past, having avoided two previous corruption charges by chance and by a technicality. These charges were early in his career, the first before he was elected to the state Senate. At that point, he was still working on the campaign of Henry “Buddy” Cianfrani, who occupied the South Philadelphia Senate seat before Fumo.

Cianfrani was also convicted of fraud and spent time in federal prison.

The point is, Philadelphians knew Fumo had a shady past before we elected him. But, we chose to keep electing him. First, he was a truly charismatic person, and it wasn’t hard to like him. Also, he did bring a school, street cleaners and money to his district. And in return, a few corruption charges didn’t seem bad enough to take the effort to vote him out of office.

Therein lies the moral behind corrupt politicians.

Usually, it’s not their first brush with impropriety. Usually, their constituents have some kind of warning that there is something not completely upstanding about their duly elected representatives.

Until we are willing to demand more integrity from our politicians, there isn’t much point in complaining about them.

Stephen Zook can be reached at stephen.zook@temple.edu.

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