Last night former Philadelphia Mayor, Pennsylvania Governor, Democratic Party Chair and current Eagles color commentator Ed Rendell received the Edmund N. Bacon Prize, which “is bestowed annually on an accomplished figure who has achieved outstanding results in urban planning, development, and design through conviction of vision, effective communication, and commitment to improving their community.”
Rendell, as a tireless advocate of infrastructure investment, is founder of Building America’s Future, which pushes insistently for such spending, along with co-founder Michael Bloomberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The award ceremony was at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and hosted by the Philadelphia Center for Architecture and the Better Philadelphia Challenge & Edmund N. Bacon Prize for Urban Planning & Design. Some of the local luminaries/engaged stakeholders present: interior designer Karen Daroff and Karen Daroff’s fur coat; city planner Ariel Ben-Amos; Pennsylvania state political blogger Jon Geeting; urbanist writer and photographer Bradley Maule; Philadelphia Center for Architecture Board President Bob Hsu; Philadelphia Center for Architecture Executive Director John Claypool; Ed Bacon’s daughter, Hilda Bacon; urban planner Greg Heller, author of Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics and the Building of Modern Philadelphia; Diana Lind, executive director and editor in chief of Next City; longtime Philadelphia city planner Craig Schelter, former executive VP of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. and current senior advisor to Econsult; Director of Federal Affairs for Philadelphia Terry Gillen; Jeff Hornstein, director of Financial and Policy Analysis for the Controller’s office… and, well, you get the idea.
Rendell was introduced by his longtime colleague Rina Cutler, who first came to work with Ed (we will call him Ed) in 1993, when he brought her in to head the Philadelphia Parking Authority, a thankless job in those days if ever there was one. Rina’s introduction included the information that Ed “was not always the easiest person to work with” and that, despite their great friendship, they were both stubborn, they both could yell, and they occasionally stopped speaking to one another.
But she said she learned some important lessons from her boss, with whom she migrated to Harrisburg, including this one: “I learned not to seek consensus but to seek consent.” This strikes me as extremely wise, and a needed tonic to the conventional wisdom in a Quaker city.
She also noted that Rendell was always candid about what infrastructure required: “It costs real money. You don’t get it for free.” Pennsylvania taxpayers know all about that.
Rendell came up to the stage walking slowly — someone in the audience called it a “waddle,” but that might be too harsh. He looked like an older gentleman, let’s put it that way.
But Ed is always quotable, is he not? And he’s always candid, funny, and — within all the laughs — quite serious about the issues he cares about. He is passionate about infrastructure investment — as a jobs creator, as a way to better the environment, as a way to return the country to its golden age of building highways and bi-ways and a golden age of manufacturing. Broadband. Steel. Dams. Ports. When was the last time the U.S. actually planned infrastructure?, he asked the crowd. Several people shouted Eisenhower. They were correct.
For those who don’t understand what infrastructure is, he said, it was encompassed in a quote by his colleague Arnold Schwarzenegger, who — when asked by his then-8-year-old son what the word meant — said, “It’s what Daddy used to blow up in the movies.” Yup. That about sums it up.
We would tell you the story that he told about Ed Bacon, but he told the exact same story to Hidden City, so just go on over there to read it.
Here are the other most Rendell-ian moments of the night:
1. As a start, Ed said he was going to tell one story about Rina — just one. It was not a story about Rina. It was a story about Ed — something about how blind people can’t drive and he stood up against disability advocates who would say otherwise. It was a little Jackie Mason shtick. Rina had one sentence in it.
2. “I love architects.”
3. Long story about how he hasn’t driven in 20 years and would like autonomous cars. “I was going to take Uber,” he said, and reportedly did, though had some trouble making the app work on an iPad.
4. When Ed Bacon wanted to do a sound and light show — the one that became Lights of Liberty — the city was in crisis. “We had to borrow money to order toilet paper.”
5. He asked if anyone in the audience knew what certain improved bridges and railways had in common. “If you get the answer right, I’ll give you four tickets to the 76ers championship game.” (The answer: they received federal stimulus funds.)
6. “People are much smarter than politicians believe.”
7. Of the U.S.’s lack of commitment to infrastructure: “We won’t invest because Washington is as dumb as dirt.”
8. “Has anyone ever seen Grover Norquist? He is particularly uninspiring.”
9. “I just got the five-minute sign. Do you really think you’re getting me off of here in five minutes?”
10. Describing a Fox TV appearance with Congressman Mike Pence: “I turned to him and said, ‘Congressman, you seem like a reasonable man to me.’ He didn’t, but I’ve learned you wanna be the good guy.”
11. He won’t be running for president. “I don’t know how many years I have left, but I know I don’t want to spend them in Iowa or New Hampshire.”
12. His favorite Kennedy quote: “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
13. Final thoughts: “We’ve always had that spirit. We never back down. We better get back to it soon — or we’re cooked.”