Ed Rendell Still Thinks We’re a Nation of Wusses

In an excerpt from his spirited new memoir, A Nation of Wusses, the former DA, mayor and governor dishes on the cheesesteak that changed his career, his buddy Bill Clinton, and why exactly the U.S. seems to be losing its mojo.

Taking On the Unions

I was inaugurated as the 121st mayor of Philadelphia on January 6, 1992. After being sworn in, I gave an inaugural speech in which I laid out a road map that I believed Philadelphia had to follow if it was to escape bankruptcy and turn its future around. At the time, we believed the city faced at least a $250 million cumulative deficit. These days, with federal talk of billions and trillions coming and going, that doesn’t sound like much. But back then, that was more than 10 percent of the city’s annual budget of $2.3 billion. Worse still, the city had raised taxes 19 times in the 10 years before I was sworn in, so increasing tax rates wasn’t an option. I knew that our only choice was to radically cut the cost of running our government. But I believed we could do so without dramatically reducing services. I had a plan, but to execute it meant radically changing the way the city operated.

As the kids would say, “Game on.” Our plan to eliminate our deficit was relatively simple—first, we needed to cut out every nickel of waste, save money by increasing productivity and efficiency, and generate more revenue without raising taxes; and second, we needed to substantially change our contracts with our four public-employee­ unions.


The first part turned out to be easier to achieve than most observers believed. Led by our brilliant chief of staff, David L. Cohen, and our newly created Office of Management and Productivity (OMP), led by a creative entrepreneur, Tom Knox, we were able to eliminate more than $2.2 billion in management cost savings and additional revenue (without raising taxes) over the eight years I was mayor.

All those initiatives were vital to our success in balancing our budget, but I knew that the mother lode was still renegotiation of contracts with Philadelphia’s municipal unions. We had to freeze wages, reduce benefits, and change costly work rules.

From the day I started my campaign to my first day in office, I went everywhere, used every media outlet, to get across to the public how out of whack things were, how absurd some of our work rules were, and how the benefit structure our workers had was so much richer than they, the public working in the private sector, had. And everywhere I went, I stressed the reality that we were out of money and that we couldn’t raise taxes any more.

Some of the benefits were simply absurd. In addition to negotiated vacation time, our workforce received 14 paid holidays. This was extremely expensive, not only in lost productivity but also because those city workers who had to work on holidays (police, fire, EMTs, prison guards) received double-time pay. So each holiday cost us an additional $7 million per year. I talked about this everywhere I went—“So for the emotional trauma of being away from their families on Flag Day, our workers get paid double time”—and in the end, the new contract we negotiated reduced the holidays from 14 to 10. Bingo: a yearly savings of $28 million.

I knew the campaign we were waging would be successful one night in May when I was watching Jesse’s Little League team play in the East Falls League playoffs. I was standing with the dads of our team’s players when the father of one of the other team’s kids came over. He worked in the Philadelphia Water Department, and he started giving me grief about being too hard on city workers. The last thing I wanted was to get into an argument over this at my son’s baseball game. I didn’t have to. The other dads, who were mostly building tradesmen, started yelling at the city worker about how they only get seven paid holidays, and how they didn’t get their pensions when they turned 55. My God, I thought: They are reciting chapter and verse what I have been saying for months. I knew at that moment that we would win. I knew there would be a strike, but that with no public support, the union would fold. There was a strike. It lasted less than 17 hours, the union folded, and we negotiated and signed the most concessionary contract in city history.

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  • eddie the hat

    Eddie’s closing line tells it all…a corrupt politico
    who stole the game from the mob and became
    what the govt. is asked to protect us from.
    Slime and Slick Willie needed extra strength
    to protect their porn star conquests.
    Why not share some truth in a Buzz Bissinger
    inspired blow job.

  • samg

    Turns out Rendell is the biggest wuss of all. I don’t see much more than a word in this excerpt blaming the people who deserve blame — the Republican Party — for the terrible state of the country, especially the economy. Even in his discussion of the man he calls the most powerful in the country, Grover Norquist, Rendell hardly makes it clear that Norquist is a Republican. He blames Congress for the gridlock that’s prevented a proper economic recovery. That’s crap. It’s the Republicans in Congress who’ve prevented Obama from making things better, they’re downright treasonous and unAmerican. But he doesn’t hardly blame the Republicans more than the Democrats (at least in this excerpt). Rendell is full of it. He’s afraid to speak the truth. He is, in other words, a wuss of wusses.

  • Pat C

    Well, why doesnt Eddie do us a favor and move to a more masquline nation.
    The worse thing someone can do is give him a platform to sell books.
    Maybe if Sir Eddie stood up for the City when he was Mayor, it wouldnt be in such bad shape as it is now. He caved in to the unions like an elephant stepping on a house of cards.
    So Eddie, you my friend are the leader of this fine nation of wussies.

  • Iris Ann Eddy

    Dear Ed Rendell:
    When you supported Hillary Clinton for Pres, I thought you were a good man but now I am changing my mind because you have lost yours. Your thought patterns aren’t matching the ones in 2008. What happened to you? Too much Obama cool aide? You need to support Coal, oil drilling, keystone, on & off shore drilling including Alaska.
    Annie

  • http://www.loisburak.com Lois

    I was always frustrated during my many years in business (in a popular area in NE Philadelphia) when the city would shut down over a little snow, seemed to get worse with every year. This didnt help a declining economy. Technology allowed Penndot the advantage of being prepared, yet there were always excuses wy roads were not cleared. I guess it was easier & cheaper to shut down an entire city. (Mayor NUTTER) BUT I dont think we can trust “Philadelphia football fans to “use their own judgment about whether going to the game in the snow was worth the risk they might encounter” > LOL this is I was always frustrated during my many years in business (in a popular area in NE Philadelphia) when the city would shut down over a little snow, seemed to get worse with every year. This didnt help a declining economy. Technology allowed Penndot the advantage of being prepared, yet there were always excuses wy roads were not cleared. I guess it was easier & cheaper to shut down an entire city. (Mayor NUTTER) BUT I dont think we can trust “Philadelphia football fans to “use their own judgment about whether going to the game in the snow was worth the risk they might encounter” > LOL they arent known for making the best decisions.