A debate in the usually sedate Pennsylvania state senate chamber dissolved into mudslinging, with a senior Democrat using a derogatory term for homosexuals to denounce a Republican leader. Republican president pro tempore Robert C. Jubelirer on Thursday demanded an apology, and Democratic senator Vincent C. Fumo later admitted to "a very unfortunate word choice." The name-calling erupted Wednesday night during a debate on a slot machine gambling bill passed last July.
"He called me a faggot," Jubelirer related Thursday. "And then I said, 'What did you say?' and he screamed it. If he has an issue with me, that's fine. But to use that term, 'faggot,' to me was a black mark, not only on him but the institution." No video cameras captured the tirade. But Radio Pennsylvania reporter Ray Smith heard it. "Senator Fumo used the epithet four times that I counted," he said.
Smith said the shock on lawmakers' faces was obvious. "I guess he believes the stereotype of that ugly word is someone who is effeminate and doesn't have much courage," Jubelirer said.
Fumo conceded he "made a mistake." In a statement Thursday he said he was "especially sorry about using the term because it is not the way I feel in my heart toward gays."
The Philadelphia lawmaker also phoned to apologize to longtime friend Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News and a 30-year lobbyist on gay issues. "Vince Fumo has one of the best track records of voting for, sponsoring, and cosponsoring legislation for gay and lesbian citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania of any senator serving or who has served in the past," Segal said.
The incident occurred after Republicans invoked an obscure parliamentary rule to cut off debate on a package of changes to the gambling bill. The move short-circuited the Democrats' hopes of bringing up amendments of their own, and Fumo went ballistic, according to witnesses. "I should have called them 'girlie men,"' he told reporters later. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used the same insult to deride Democratic lawmakers in his state.