Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Last Hurrah

A piece still causing buzz among the pols is the story done by my colleague, Angela Couloumbis, wherein Ed Rendell pronounces this campaign his last one.
"This is my 14th election - enough is enough," the governor told Couloumbis while campaigning in Lancaster the other week. Here is a transcript of their exchange.
Most pols thought it was a crock and that Rendell will be tempted to run a 15th time, maybe for President or Vice President.
But I take Rendell at his word. Read the story and you'll see that he thinks President is out of the question. (He would have had to have started campaigning months ago if he was interested.) As to Vice President, he confesses, it is not a job he wants. Besides, he adds, he's not exactly on the "A" list of any of the potential presidentials, nor does he expect to be. Rendell's reputation in Washington as a shoot-from-the-lip candidate assures that.
I don't think Rendell is without ambition. He simply realizes the reality of the situation.

The piece served a second purpose. It allowed Rendell to state that if re-elected as governor he will serve his entire four-year term. This clearly is designed to quell Knollophobia in political circles -- the nagging fear that Rendell will depart for Washington in mid-term and that Catherine Baker Knoll will become governor of Pennsylvania.

Rendell will be 66 in 2010, the last year of his second term if he is re-elected. He is among the state's most enduring political figures, with a career of public service spanning five decades, beginning when he joined the District Attorney's office in 1968, just out of Villanova Law School. He was 24 at the time. The guy who hired him was DA Arlen Specter. Later, Rendell went on to head the office's high-profile homicide unit.

Smart politicians know how to seize an opportunity and Rendell did that in his maiden election in 1977, when he opposed incumbent DA F. Emmett Fitzpatrick in the Democratic primary. Fitz had ousted Specter four years earlier in an upset. Rendell departed the office shortly thereafter.
This was in the midst of the Rizzo era of Philly politics. Fitzpatrick had the backing of the mayor and the party apparatus. Rendell ran an outsider's campaign -- as he's done often ever since. He was anathema to the party regulars. He was seen as representing the anti-Rizzo liberals. But he beat the machine. It had more to do with the incumbent than with the challenger. Fitzpatrick, a well-known defense attorney, had champagne tastes in an office with a beer budget. He got himself a Lincoln towncar as his official city vehicle. He loved to travel to conventions in lovely locations. And he was caught, by my former colleague Mike Leary, expensing a safari jacket he picked up on one of those trips. (He listed it as a "meal" at Aquascutum.) Rendell cleaned his clock, winning with 67% of the vote.

If that was a highlight of Rendell's career, two low points came in 1986, when he lost the Democratic primary for governor to Bob Casey Sr. and in 1987, when he lost the Democratic primary for mayor to incumbent Wilson Goode. "I may never seek office again," Rendell said after losing to Goode. Four years later, he was back running for mayor.

Rendell has had years where he was in private practice, but that was just where he hung his hat while waiting for the next election to come along. He was and is and always will be a politician -- and a good one at that. Like Al Smith, he's a Happy Warrior, who loves the game. He's popular because of his performance and his regular-guy persona. But I think the trait that seals the deal with most voters is his optimism.

I've posted a a list of Rendell's contested elections -- and their results -- on my Letters Blog.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What seals the deal for me, a Republican turned Rendell democrat, is that he is serious about accepting the responsibilities of the office he seeks. Yes, Ed Rendell is a gracious & charming campaigner, but, more importantly, he cares about being an administrator. In forty plus years in politics & media, at the local & national level, he's near the top in my book/look of politicians I admire. Would that more politicians emulated Rendell & used the power & not the perks!
It is not the process, but the product which matters. Philadelphia is a testimony to Rendell's commitment to the product.

6:06 AM  
Blogger rasphila said...

Anonymous is absolutely right. And we will miss Rendell's commitment to public service and the art of governing. But I've always thought Rendell himself would know when to move on, just as he seems to know how to pick his spots in politics and in administration. He has clearly made up his mind, and who could argue with him? It's his assessment to make. On this, as on many other issues, I trust his judgment. I also look for him to find ways of being very useful after he leaves politics.

7:43 AM  
Anonymous rms said...

Thank you for writing about Governor Rendell. When I moved to Pennsylvania three years ago, all I knew about him was that he was the former mayor of Philadelphia and the current governor of Pennsylvania. I wasn't here very long before I realized how much he was liked and respected by just about everyone I met.

In July 2004 I volunteered at the Democratic National Convention and was assigned to help people board the bus that ran from the hotel housing the Pennsylvania and New Jersey delegation to the convention. Another middle-aged woman and I were herding our passengers and waiting for the next bus when Governor Rendell and his party came along behind us. We were on the only clear path on the sidewalk and, without missing a beat, he put his arms around each of our shoulders, said, "Excuse me, ladies," and gently pushed us aside, clearing the way for himself and his party.

It was very fast, and only as he was passing, I remarked to the other woman, "Why, that's Governor Rendell."

"Governor Rendell," she squealed, "I've been hugged by
Governor Rendell!"

I guess any man who can move people out of his path and have them believe he's hugging them is obviously a wonderful politician.

2:42 PM  
Anonymous MontCo R said...

I had to smile at rms' story, sounds just like the way people react to Rendell. I am one of those republicans who changed my registration so I could vote for him in the primary. While I was disappointed that some important things didn't get done in his first term, I blame much of it on the legislators who had become too big for their britches. I think the pay raise debacle sent the message to them and look forward to more progress in his second term.

4:19 PM  

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