Ed Rendell: The Oral History

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


• Paul Levy:
Ed has a reputation of strong opinions and shouting at people. But if you went in to meet with him, you could disagree with him and that was fine.

• Sharon Pinkenson
: The first really big opportunity I had to speak in front of a lot of people was the world premiere of Philadelphia in 1993. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington and Jonathan Demme — everyone was there. And I had all these crib notes about what I was going to say. The Mayor — in front of everybody — took all my papers, laughed, tore them into pieces, and threw them into the audience. I thought I was going to faint.

• Dawn Dugan:
We always had meetings in dog parks, the most off-the-wall places. He was always having to go feed his dogs.

• Alan Kessler: I used to be a township commissioner in Lower Merion. So one Sunday I get this call while I’m home and it’s this wild man, of Indian descent, who says his name is Dr. Rasna Jandi. “Mr. Kessler! Mr. Kessler! You’re my local elected official! You have to help me! My toilet is stopped up and the shit is all over the place!” And I’m looking at the phone like this is a wacko caller. I hang up. Phone rings two minutes later and it’s the same guy. So I finally said, “Look, this sounds like an issue for the EPA, call the Environmental Protection Agency.” About three months later, I’m at this public event and Ed puts his arm around me. He says, “I just wonder, do you ever have to handle environmental matters?” I said “What? Of course townships have environmental matters.” He said, “Do you ever deal with constituents’ environmental problems? Maybe Indian descent?” I just cracked up.

• Neil Oxman:
There are a lot of misanthropes in this business. But Ed’s not like that. He genuinely likes people.

• Bob Brady: When Ed was mayor-elect, he promised four different people they would be chairman of the Parking Authority. But nobody got mad. I would get killed for that. When he makes a commitment, you don’t know if he’ll keep it. But he makes people happy.

AMERICA’S MAYOR

By the mid-1990s, Philadelphia had new momentum. City finances had stabilized, and new projects—including the Convention Center, the Kimmel Center and numerous downtown hotels—were under way. Al Gore dubbed Rendell “America’s Mayor.”

• Alan Kessler: You walked down the street with him and it wasn’t “Mayor this” or “Mayor that.” It was “Ed, how you doing?” “Hey Eddie!” People felt they knew him.

• Rudy Giuliani
, mayor of New York from 1993 to 2001: I got to know him when I was running for mayor. I just asked him for advice: How do you handle it? You seem to be changing things. I can summarize his advice real simply. He said, “Talk a lot. Set the agenda. Don’t be shy. You’ll be the 800-pound gorilla in the public dialogue. You shape the debate.”

• Neil Stein, former owner, Striped Bass and Rouge: During those days, he loved it so much, he was out all the time, was always with different people in different restaurants. And being that I had one of the great seafood restaurants in the country, Ed was in there a lot.

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  • colleen

    Having read your story on the Governor, it reminded me of his 1977 DA run. In 1977 I was an 18 year old cashier at the A & P on Roosevelt Boulevard. One afternoon the candidate and his campaign manager came in the store. They were to attend a fundraiser at The Shack Restaurant next door. The campaign manager asked, “What aisle is the Scotch-tape?” I told him the aisle, only for him to reaapear at my register and ask, “What aisle are toilet brushes?” At this point, realizing it was Mr. Rendell, I asked why they needed Scotch-tape and toilet brushes. The campaign manager informed me they were trying to get the fuzzies off of Mr. Rendell’s suit. Classic. Only in Philly. I’m sure the Governor is dressing better nowadays. C. C. Young

  • colleen

    Having read your story on the Governor, it reminded me of his 1977 DA run. In 1977 I was an 18 year old cashier at the A & P on Roosevelt Boulevard. One afternoon the candidate and his campaign manager came in the store. They were to attend a fundraiser at The Shack Restaurant next door. The campaign manager asked, “What aisle is the Scotch-tape?” I told him the aisle, only for him to reaapear at my register and ask, “What aisle are toilet brushes?” At this point, realizing it was Mr. Rendell, I asked why they needed Scotch-tape and toilet brushes. The campaign manager informed me they were trying to get the fuzzies off of Mr. Rendell’s suit. Classic. Only in Philly. I’m sure the Governor is dressing better nowadays. C. C. Young

  • Mark

    Like Rendell, I am a native New Yorker and I know his mindset regarding Philly and Pennsylvania for that matter.When he went to Penn and saw Philly he couldn’t believe the corrupt bunch of rubes who run the place. Knowing his BS wouldn’t fly in savvy NY, he proceeded to grease his sleazy political career to the point where he was dubbed “Americas mayor” Please! I saw this character close up and he may be a god here but the guys a total fraud.

  • Eric

    Mr. Rendell eliminated the motorcycle helmet law when he began his career as Governor. On his way out he vetoed both the “residential sprinkler bill” AND the “cancer presumption” bill. This man has no soul…