Ed Rendell: The Oral History

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

• John Street: In his very early public statements he said, “The state is not going to bail us out. We’re going to have to solve this problem ourselves.” Ed had tough labor relations to deal with. But unlike the current mayor, Ed dealt with that right away.

• Thomas Paine Cronin
, former president of District Council 47, which represents municipal workers: In the 1992 contract dispute, he was horrible. He had campaigned on suppressing the city workers. The first time I met him, he said, “You guys have controlled the city for the last 20 years, and now we’re going to take it back.” It was a ridiculous statement, but that was the tone he set.

• John Street: Ed was very tough in the negotiations. In fact, I think he and David Cohen made some mistakes. I think it was either Ed or David who said something about the “Indians” being in charge.

• Thomas Paine Cronin: David Cohen said we were pigs at the trough. All kinds of ugly, emotional metaphors they used against us.

• John Street
: I was in those negotiations all the way up to the very end. In fact, just before we got a contract, I was up from six o’clock on Sunday morning until after the 11 o’clock news Tuesday night. I remember because I tried to go to sleep but couldn’t.
• Thomas Paine Cronin
: I have to go against popular feeling, which was, oh, he brought the city back, saved the city. I thought he got an awful lot of good publicity. He’s very glib and very smart. But he accomplished what he did off of the city workforce.

Rendell brought renewed energy to City Hall, meeting with business and community leaders constantly and making endless public appearances.

• Sharon Pinkenson, head of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office: A couple of weeks after the November 1991 election, I invited him to lunch at the Palm and he actually accepted. I presented him with a proposal for the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. He started banging his hands and fists and said, with his signature foam coming out of the corners of his mouth, “I need a business plan on my desk on Monday!” He scared the living daylights out of me.

•Paul Levy:
When we approach-ed him in the summer of ’92 when we were getting ready to launch our “Make It A Night” campaign to promote downtown, the first thing he did was make sure parking was free on Wednesday nights. He was a positive and relentless promoter of what would help the city.

• Bill Hankowsky
, CEO of Liberty Property Trust and former head of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation: When I was head of PIDC, I had a weekly meeting with him. One week, waiting in the reception area outside his office, there was a father and a son about 12, casually dressed.

“Are you seeing the Mayor?” the boy asked me.

I told him I was, and he explained that they were from Des Moines and he had contacted American mayors for a civics project. The only one he got an answer from was Mayor Rendell, who said that if he was in Philadelphia he should stop by.

“So guess where summer vacation was going to be,” the dad said.

Rendell popped out of his office: “Do you mind if Bob and his dad join us?” he asked me. I’m thinking, that means I can’t go through half my agenda. But Bob and his dad came into the Mayor’s office with me, and some discussion went on. Then I told Rendell I needed to talk to him alone. After Bob and his dad left, I said to the Mayor, “What was that all about?”

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