The Delaware River Port Authority of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, or DRPA, is “a regional transportation and economic development agency serving the people of Southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.” Simply put, the DRPA are the guys who own and operate the Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry and Betsy Ross bridges, not to mention the PATCO Speedline and the RiverLink Ferry.
They play a pivotal role in Philadelphia transportation and help assist in regional development and economic growth for the tri-state area. Every time you pay a bridge toll or ride the ferry, you’re paying for a service, while reinvesting your money back into the region. Right?
Cue Vincent Fumo, Pennsylvania State Senator from Philadelphia. You may have heard about this guy’s involvement in a handful of scandals, like this one for example: In January, Senator Fumo came under fire for billing taxpayers $73,000 for meals at the upscale La Veranda restaurant in Center City. His excuse? The meals were an investment.
Or how about this one: The FBI was recently investigating Fumo’s use of a yacht that belongs to the Independence Seaport Museum. Fumo happens to be a board member at the museum. Now, the IRS states that board members are permitted to use the yacht (which usually runs for $22,000 per week to rent) for free if it is used for fund raising.
I doubt his cruise to Martha’s Vineyard with friends and family counts as fund raising. Fumo stated about the yacht: “If I’m on it once a year, it’s a lot.” Guess what? I haven’t been on a yacht once this year, or ever. Have you?
Then there is the question of Fumo’s latest scandal. Years ago, after finding out PATCO tunnels and rail stations were owned by the city, he squeezed $2 million out of them yearly as an annual fee. Then, Fumo spearheaded a bill making DRPA pay $40 million in six installments to promote economic development.
But he just broke the DRPA piggy bank open and kept it for himself. Actually, he got together with a friend and decided how to spend the money, because as Fumo puts it, “I couldn’t give 10 cents out of that fund, or even recommend it, unless Ed signed off on it.” That’s right, he was talking about our mayor at the time, and current governor, Ed Rendell. So, what did they spend the money on?
About $100,000 went to the private Greene Towne School, where Fumo’s children had attended pre-school. About $100,000 went to build a new gymnasium at the private school Fumo’s children were currently attending. A scholarship fund was established at Villanova, Fumo’s alma mater. Another $14 million then went to nonprofit organizations run by Fumo’s aides.
Why wasn’t there outrage from the public? Simple – nobody knew. I had never even heard about it until a few days ago, and that’s how Senator Fumo wants to keep it. A very small percentage of people are informed enough to care, and those who do care are powerless to do anything.
This is a game where politicians can do whatever they want, and then hide behind red tape because they’re the ones in charge of the roll. Although we are supposed to be living in a system of checks and balances, the only checks here are the ones being made out to Fumo’s friends.
As a Philadelphia citizen and toll payer, I find it a slap in the face to the working class that our Ben Franklin Bridge tolls went to pay for a gym in Fumo’s kid’s school. But even more offensive is that Fumo knows nothing will be done about it.
The next time you have to pay $3 to go across the Ben Franklin Bridge, take a moment to look down; you may just see Fumo sailing by on his stolen yacht and saying, “Thank you.”
Vince Foti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.