Ed Rendell: The Oral History

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

“If I have to get people to come to Philadelphia one at a time,” Rendell said, “that’s what I’m going to do.”

• Dawn Dugan,
party planner: I did some crazy events with Ed when he was mayor. Like a potbellied pig beauty contest he judged in the Merriam Theater. In the lobby, 30 pigs paraded in sequin dresses. He was so busy—but he was the right guy for the job. I don’t even think judging pigs was the most absurd thing he ever did. And he was kind to those pigs, pointing out every little sparkle.

• John Street: There are people who underestimated Ed Rendell. He was a smart guy who knew exactly what he wanted. Restoring the finances of the city was his number one goal, and then he wanted to bring back Center City and get stuff moving.

• Neil Oxman
: Philadelphia used to have a major manufacturing base. Ed understood that was gone. So he focused on tourism and education. There was a method to the madness. It was about jobs.

• Zack Stalberg, editor of the Daily News, 1984 to 2005: Over the years, we’ve had many fights. One of the great things about him, though, is that he didn’t hold grudges. Years ago, the Daily News had stepped in to save [the Fourth of July festival in the city], and we put on a concert and did some stuff. Then [in 1993] Rendell sold the naming rights of the Welcome America festival to Sunoco. I was pissed, but he was probably right. I made some reference in a column like, “If Midge was a NASCAR automobile, Ed would be selling parts of her anatomy for advertisement.” We spent a few days arguing about this over the phone, and then I went off on a long Fourth of July weekend. When I got home from the Shore, there are 11 messages from City Hall on my home answering machine, saying the Mayor wants to talk to you. I’m thinking, “Holy shit! We’ve got to go through this some more?” I call City Hall. Ed says, “I got a great idea for a contest with the newspaper.” He had moved completely off what the fight had been about and was ready to partner on something.  

• John Street
: As a consequence of the hard stuff, we actually bonded a lot. I remember we used to meet every Tuesday morning at six or seven o’clock in my office, and we would go over everything. It was Joyce Wilkerson from my staff and me, and it was Ed and David Cohen. We discussed all the problems, all the potential solutions, the budgets — I mean, everything.

• Bob Brady
, Congressman, head of the Democratic Party in Philadelphia: When Rendell was mayor, we used to meet on Sunday nights, with David Cohen. One Sunday, David was on vacation. “We can’t meet without David,” Ed said. I said we had to meet. But we just watched a Phillies game, me and Ed, and never talked business. Afterwards, I said to him, “Yeah, we need David.”

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