The Farnese upset; Doc defeated

Joseph A. Gambardello, Michael Matza and Jennifer Lin report:

Larry Farnese, a Center City lawyer who grew up in the suburbs, achieved a stunning victory yesterday, defeating South Philly born and bred power broker John J. Dougherty to become the Democratic candidate for State. Sen Vincent Fumo’s seat.

Anne Dicker, 35, a grassroots progressive, followed far behind.

With Fumo holding up his arm boxing champion style, Farnese stood in the open outdoor cafe window of the Paradiso Restaurant in South Philadelphia to claim victory last night.

"It’s now official. I endorse Larry Farnese," Fumo said, sparking laughter.

"Tonight, this city took five steps forward," Farnese said. "Tonight we made another statement that Harrisburg will be reformed … and tonight we fought back corruption and old school politics in the city of Philadelphia."

"Tonite we turn the page of the First District," said Farnese, his parents standing nearby. "The torch has been passed."

Farnese’s victory probably could not have happened without Fumo, who dropped out of the race last month because of his impending federal fraud and corruption trial.

Once the senator left, his supporters — including City Councilmen Frank DiCicco and James Kenney — moved into the Farnese camp, offering guidance and money.

Although Fumo never came out publicly for Farnese, he lobbied for him behind the scenes, providing funding through a PAC he controls and getting senate colleagues to contribute more than $287,000.

Farnese, 39, campaigned as a reformer with a realist’s eyes, supporting gun control and universal health care, but also against Dougherty, labeling the electricians union leader opponent a "thug" and repeatedly calling attention to a federal investigation of his opponent.

Dougherty, for his part, sought to portray Farnese as Fumo’s puppet.

Farnese will face Republican Jack Morley in November and possibly Joseph Vignola, a Democratic former city controller and councilman who is considering running as an independent.

The First District extends from the International Airport to Port Richmond and Brewerytown and includes South Philadelphia and Center City.

Passions have historically run high in the district and fears they could be exacerbated by the longtime feud between Fumo and Dougherty prompted the non-partisan Committee of Seventy to dispatch a disproportionate number of poll watchers — 140 — throughout the First.

U.S. Justice Department also were on standby.

Tensions were high, but no serious incidents were reported.

During the day, lawyers for the Farnese and Dougherty campaigns went to court complaining about misbehavior at one polling the place or another. Without placing blame, judges issued generic orders barring whatever it was that prompted the lawyers to go court in the first place.

"When you have a competitive race like this, tempers flare up," Ward 39B leader Matthew Myers said outside South Philadelphia’s Murphy Recreation Center, source of at least two court orders. "We’ve got all kinds of complaints, most of them false."

At Farnese’s election night headquarters, a cheer went up about 9:20 p.m., when returns that had showed Dougherty in the lead, turned in their candidates fever.

About the same time, the crowd at Dougherty’s opulent bash at Galdo’s 20th at Street and Moyamensing Avenue became subdued as tension drifted through the huge ballroom.

It never got better and even news that the Flyers had won their playoff series against Washington was not sufficient to lift spirits.
Dougherty, who far outspent his opponents, had clearly anticipated winning.

Open bars, tables filled with food fit for an Irish and Italian wedding and hospitality tents outside attested to his campaign’s wealth.

Holographic images of Dougherty were even projected on the buildings exterior as crowds filled the street and traffic slowed to a crawl.