Off the Cuff: June 2010

A FEW WEEKS AGO, one of our editors ran into Governor Rendell at a Center City restaurant. Our editor told the Governor he’d heard a rumor that Rendell was considering running for mayor again, and perhaps would run against Michael Nutter next year. Was it true? As everyone knows, Philadelphia’s government is dysfunctional, and the city is desperate for strong leadership. Ed Rendell returning as mayor of Philadelphia once more is an intriguing possibility.

The Governor laughed at the idea. But then he said something curious: “If Herb Lipson writes me a letter … ”

“Then you would run for mayor?”

“Herb Lipson won’t write me a letter,” Ed Rendell said, still laughing.

Dear Governor:

As you know, Philadelphia is in miserable shape. Perhaps it is in even worse shape than when you became mayor in 1992, and that is saying something.

 You and I have known each other for quite some time, Governor, and we’ve had our differences over the years. But you did some terrific things as mayor, such as taking on the unions, revitalizing downtown, making tourism a priority, and pushing for the Avenue of the Arts.

I have always admired your energy and obvious passion for the city, something I witnessed firsthand. You may remember when we ran into each other at Hôtel du Cap, in Cap d’Antibes. It was sometime in the late ’90s, near the end of your second term as mayor. You came into the dining area with someone from the French tourist office, and spontaneously joined my wife and me for lunch. (I distinctly remember you finishing my club sandwich, by the way.)

At some point during our meal, my wife looked down at the hotel pool from the balcony where we were sitting. Sandy Weill, then the head of Citigroup, was down there; she called to him, and asked him to come join us.

You knew who Sandy was—Citigroup was the insurer of the One Meridian Plaza building, which had been destroyed by fire. In fact, he teased you. “You should be very happy,” Weill said, “since I just sent the city a check for more than $300 million to cover the fire.”

I’ll never forget what happened next.

Governor, you proceeded to try to talk Sandy Weill into moving the headquarters of Citigroup to Philadelphia. Now, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that was going to happen, but you went on and on about what a great city this is, how it was changing and growing, how it had become a great place to relocate a business—on and on, as only you could. It was an amazing performance, a testament not only to how you feel about Philadelphia, but to your energy in selling it to anyone, despite the long odds that someone like Sandy Weill would ever dream of moving his company here.

Philadelphia really is desperate for leadership, for someone with the can-do spirit that will inspire all of us to believe that anything is possible, at a time when we’re losing faith in the city. Ed, I believe that you can get Philadelphia back on track, and convince everyone in the region that the city is, after all, much better than we now think it is.


D. Herbert Lipson