A Smart Jewish Lawyer
My political career almost ended in 1987, when I lost my second major election in 12 months. (The first was for governor; the second, for mayor.)
In politics, as in life, the world loves winners and outright shuns losers. I went back to practicing law and trying to raise enough money to pay off my campaign debts, including a second mortgage taken out on our Shore home. Good luck! People would actually cross over to the other side of the street when they saw me coming, because they thought I would ask them for money. Lose two elections in 12 months and you find out who your friends are, and there aren’t a whole lot of them. I could barely raise $100, but one day a check for $5,000 came in the mail from Leonard Tose, the former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, with a note that read, “Hope this helps. You did the right thing in running. Hang in there and don’t get discouraged.” I barely knew Leonard, but I never forgot his kindness, and when he fell on hard times near the end of his life, it gave me great joy to be in a position to help him.
Well, I settled into my routine at the law firm. Every once in a while, someone would write an article about the 1991 mayor’s race. I was always mentioned, but immediately written off as a two-time loser, a hopeless also-ran. Everyone had counted me out, but the embers still burned deep in my heart.
I was sincerely torn. On the one hand, I hadn’t lost my desire to serve. I still thought I had something to contribute and could help turn Philadelphia around. On the other hand, I didn’t want to lose another high-profile election and subject myself, my wife Midge and our son Jesse to the derision and abuse that come with that. And besides, I wasn’t sure I really had a chance to win.
By March 1990, I knew I had to decide soon. If I was going to run, I needed to start raising money almost immediately. I agonized over it until one night when I was coming home—Midge and Jesse were away—and I stopped at a cheesesteak place close to our house. I placed my order and stood back to wait. I saw an older lady also waiting for her order. She looked Irish, somewhat disheveled, and almost toothless. She kept staring at me, and finally she said, “Are you Rendell?” I said that I was. She then asked, “Well, are you going to run for mayor?” I was surprised and replied, “I don’t know. What do you think?” She paused and thought about it for a little while, rubbed her chin, and then said, “You have to. This city is so fucked up that only a smart Jewish lawyer can turn it around.”
I was juiced! If this little old lady understood that the city was in such bad shape that it needed someone smart to turn it around, then I had a chance.