President Rendell?

I think the governor has set his sights on Washington

Ed Rendell has always had his eyes on his next job.

When he was district attorney in Philadelphia, it became clear that he wanted to be mayor, and he did what was necessary to make that a reality. When he was mayor of Philadelphia, it became clear that he wanted to be governor, and he did what was necessary to make that a reality.

So what is next for Ed Rendell? This time it is not so clear.

The only thing for certain is that Ed Rendell is not ready to retire from public life at 66. He has grasped onto a media megaphone with both hands to make certain that his name and face are constantly out there. Woody Allen once said that “90 percent of success is showing up,” and Rendell always shows up for appearances on the networks and all of the cable news outlets. Rendell is on MSNBC’s Morning Joe so much, I half expect to see him in the promotional photos with Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist.[SIGNUP]

Maybe he is angling for a media job. He is great television and has a knack for getting attention. Recently he was widely quoted for calling some of the Republican midterm candidates “nut jobs and wackos.” Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Scarborough are all former office holders who have found success on cable TV.

There is no question that Rendell loves being on TV, but I think he likes being the boss even better. Rendell has always been the executive in charge, as D.A., mayor, governor and party chairman. So although I think the desire is there, sans getting his own show, I don’t think television is the governor’s next calling. Besides, he is on so much now, with his appearances and his gig as a Comcast Eagles analyst, I think his media bug is scratched.

I believe Rendell’s sights are set on Washington.

His name has been bandied about as a possible replacement for Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, should Emanuel resign to run for mayor of Chicago as expected. It is high profile enough for Rendell’s ego, but again it would involve working for someone else. Plus, there are so many other names more likely to get the job that I don’t believe Rendell even makes the short list behind current favorite Valerie Jarrett. If Rendell ever wanted a job that close to Obama, he probably hurt his chances when he endorsed Hillary Clinton in her run for President. He probably killed his chances when he criticized the Afghan war effort, which brings up another interesting scenario.

If the war in Afghanistan drags on well past the Obama deadline of next summer, as General Petraeus has warned, there is an opening for an anti-war candidate to emerge from within the Democratic Party, a la Eugene McCarthy in 1968. Rendell has both the chops and charisma to pull off such a challenge and has already staked himself in the role as the leading Democrat against the war. But I can’t see a scenario where President Obama does not pull our troops next summer, as it could be political suicide to leave them. Plus Rendell is a shrewd politician who has collected a traveling bag full of IOUs from other Democrats. They might all be stamped “null and void” if he challenges the party in such a bold and damaging matter. Going rogue is just not Rendell’s style.
What then?

I keep going back to a couple of private conversations I had with Governor Rendell. I was a popular emcee and speaker at charity and community events in and around Philadelphia, so I have been backstage with Rendell more than once. On two occasions I brought up the possibility of him leaving his current job to work for a Democratic administration in Washington, once when John Kerry was running and once when Obama was campaigning. Both times Rendell brushed off the possibility of being vice-president, but added on his own, “The job I might be interested in is Secretary of Education.”

It makes a lot of sense. The Education Secretary can be as high profile as he wants to be, just ask Bob Bennett. Rendell would be an executive running a big department, and it is a “Miss Congeniality” position, in that, nobody dislikes the Education Secretary. He or she is seen as a crusader fighting for the nation’s children.

There is always turnover in a president’s second term. My best guess is that Ed Rendell will be a very strong and very public advocate for Barack Obama in his re-election bid. If the economy improves and both wars are over, Barack Obama will be tough to beat, especially since the Republicans don’t have a real challenger yet.

The current Secretary of Education is Arne Duncan, formerly the CEO of Chicago’s public schools. Arne: That warm feeling on the back of your neck is Ed Rendell’s breath.
LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post every Monday and Thursday. See his previous columns here. To watch his video commentaries, go to