Is Ed Rendell Trolling Philly’s Democratic Machine?

He keeps endorsing anti-establishment candidates.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell is up to something. He’s one of the most popular Democrats in the city, and yet he keeps throwing his weight behind candidates who are not backed by Philadelphia’s Democratic Party.

One of his hand-picked hopefuls isn’t even registered as a Democrat. This week, Rendell endorsed Andrew Stober, an Independent candidate for City Council. Back during the primary campaign, Rendell supported Council candidates Allan Domb, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Paul Steinke, none of whom were endorsed by the Democratic City Committee. And while he didn’t officially endorse Doug Oliver — a long-shot mayoral candidate in the spring who didn’t get any love from the city’s party leaders — Rendell certainly boosted his profile by saying lots and lots of nice things about him. (Rendell eventually endorsed Jim Kenney, the Democratic mayoral nominee, but not until August.)

Is Rendell trolling the local Democratic Party? Or, to put it in less clickbait-y terms, is he trying to push for change in the party? What’s going on?

Probably a few things. One, Rendell isn’t in office anymore, so he doesn’t have to worry too much about upsetting the city’s Democratic machine. He’s more or less free to do what he pleases. Two, Rendell likely “wants to be able to stay relevant,” as Philadelphia-based political consultant Larry Ceisler put it. (Read: Rendell loooves attention.) Three, many of the candidates Rendell has supported in the last year are business-friendly and reform-minded — in other words, Rendellian — so it makes all the sense in the world that he’d like to give them a boost.

“I don’t think he’s trying to challenge the Democratic party,” said Mustafa Rashed, former manager of Oliver’s mayoral campaign (and a Citified contributor). “When people present themselves as new and fresh candidates, it’s something he can relate to.”

But is Rendell frustrated with the party, perhaps?

“I don’t know if it’s a frustration, per se,” said Rashed. “I think he’d like to see more talent there … and that he’s trying to get younger people involved in the process.”

Ceisler noted that as mayor Rendell also sometimes threw his weight behind candidates who were not endorsed by the Democratic City Committee. “He always had his own slate of judicial candidates,” he said.

This raises another question: Given his star power in Philadelphia, has Rendell done enough to shape the city’s Democratic Party and to support his favorite candidates? Often times, campaigns look for four things from big-name supporters like Rendell: an endorsement, photo, check and fundraiser. I asked Stober how many of those he got. Just the endorsement, he said, though he added that he was more than happy with what he got and didn’t ask for anything else. He said Rendell’s endorsement sends a powerful message to Democrats that “it’s OK to vote for this guy.”

Steinke and Oliver lost in the primary. But Sánchez and Domb were successful in the spring, and unless the universe caves in, both will win in the general election next month. At the same time, though, there isn’t a league of former Rendell aides in elected office at the city level, in the same way that there are acolytes of other past big politicians. At the state level, though, Rendell’s former revenue chief, Tom Wolf, is, you know, governor.

Rendell did not return our messages seeking comment. His aide noted that he had a tight schedule last week after Vice President Joe Biden announced that he would not run for president and reporters came calling for Rendell’s analysis. The man does love attention.