Philadelphia’s own State Sen. Vincent Fumo, among his other distinctions, sits on the board of trustees for the National Constitution Center, a museum enshrining the most sacred government document in the land. The man ought to know a thing or two about constitutional political conductSadly, the 30-year representative of Philadelphia’s 1st district has proven time and again that he has no respect for good government. In 1978, he garnered 15 jury convictions in a trial over a ghost employee scam he was running out of his senate office, and now he has been indicted on more than 139 charges of fraud, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.
Fumo was able to convince a judge to overturn his 1978 conviction, continuing to serve his district to this very day. However, the most recent charges clearly cut a little too deep: he is finally not running.
This should be a chance to clean up the notoriously corrupt 1st district, encompassing all of Center City, South Philly and part of Fishtown. Of course, things never work so simply in Philadelphia. The front-runner to succeed Fumo is no reformer, but instead the politically entrenched union leader known as John Dougherty.
This is really a case of history repeating itself for the 1st District. When Fumo ran in 1978 for office, it was to succeed Sen. Buddy Cianfrani, who had been convicted of bribery and racketeering. Fumo was a young, fresh-faced wunderkind, who was from the neighborhood and floated well with the core group of older South Philadelphians who eventually put him into office time and again. While Fumo soon showed his true colors, this time we don’t even have the illusion of a fresh start.
John Dougherty, known as “Johnny Doc” at the union bar he owns in South Philly, has been the head of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 98 for years, and in his own words at his campaign kickoff event, “I’ve been subpoenaed for 15 years, being a labor leader.”
While this crass charm wins points at the union hall, it is long since past time that Philadelphia voters demand more from candidates than a veneer of integrity. Many of Dougherty’s close associates have already been reeled in on fraud or corruption charges, and his home was searched during federal investigation into tax fraud. Johnny Doc has always managed to stay clean, but his personal relationship with so many muddied figures – including Fumo – is too much coincidence.
Now his bid in 2008 for the state senate seat is running at full steam, bolstered by campaign manager Brian Hickey, the former managing editor of the Philadelphia CityPaper and former critic of both Dougherty and Fumo. Hickey has apparently seen the light and is now devoted to using his CityPaper cred to woo a critical youth vote in the Center City environs with slick, feel-good political ads and choice public appearances for Johnny Doc.
As many off-campus Temple students reside within the boundaries of the 1st district, I feel as though I cannot stress enough the importance of local elections and knowing your candidate. This is not a simple lever-pulling day or an “unimportant” election. Fumo went unchecked for three decades by riding “unimportant” elections and scooping up the votes of enough senior citizens to scrape by again and again. He has now allegedly cost you, the taxpayer, millions of dollars on items as frivolous as animal feed for his ranch or vacuum cleaners. Don’t let it happen again.
Ryan Briggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.