Ed Rendell: The Oral History

Looking back on the former mayor as his political career in Pennsylvania nears its end.

• Alan Kessler, attorney and longtime Rendell fund-raiser: In 1986, Ed decides he’s going to run for governor. It became, I guess, more difficult than we all thought it would be to run a campaign like that and take on the senior Bob Casey.

• Sam Katz:
Ed lost to Bob Casey, and a year later he ran for mayor against Wilson Goode, the incumbent. He broke his promise there. He had promised the black clergy in Philadelphia he wouldn’t run against Wilson, to get their backing for the governor’s race.

• Alan Kessler: I sat down with Ed after he lost and said, “You’ve gotta think about earning a living.” He decided to come to my law firm. He could have been a great lawyer, but he wasn’t interested in being a great lawyer; he was interested in running for office. I saw him one Sunday afternoon, and he had a tux on. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “Ah, I have to go to a dinner downtown.” And I said, “You got a jury closing tomorrow.” He said, “Alan, how many speeches have I given? Do you really think I can’t get up before 12 men and women and convince them of the case?”

• Sam Katz:
Ed ran against Wilson in ’87. It was not a tremendous campaign; it didn’t connect with voters. After that, it looked like Ed Rendell’s political career might be over.

• Neil Oxman,
political consultant and co-founder of the Campaign Group: After he lost in ’87, there were about five of us left in Ed’s camp. People don’t like to remember this, but people thought Ed was a has-been.


At a December 1989 Eagles game, Rendell was seated next to a pack of drunken fans who began throwing snowballs.

• Eric Brosz
was at the game and later was interviewed by the Inquirer’s Steve Lopez: Rendell says to this one guy, “I’ll bet you $20 you can’t reach the field.” I couldn’t believe it. It lands at the feet of the back judge. Rendell pulls out his wallet, rips out a $20, and pays the guy.

• Ed Rendell
, when asked by Lopez if he paid someone to throw a snowball: No. I was trying to talk guys out of throwing snowballs.

• Rendell, calling Lopez back an hour later: Steve, Ed Rendell again. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth originally. … What I did was stupid. To say “I bet you can’t reach the field” maybe in some small way encouraged them.


• Sam Katz
: What changed in 1991 was the level of attention he gave to preparing himself. The city’s finances had collapsed. The city had run out of cash. He really knuckled down, probably under the significant influence of David L. Cohen [who would become his chief of staff]. He dug into city labor contracts, got his arms around the city budget, and posited himself as a financial reformer.

Tom McGrath Tom McGrath, Chief Content and Strategy Officer of MetroCorp tmcgrath@phillymag.com