When Did Ed Rendell Become
Such a Wuss?

The former governor is wrong: Rob McCord's attack ad on Tom Wolf is fair game.

Ed Rendell

When did Ed Rendell become such a wuss?

Ed’s pretty much been sitting out the race to be the Democratic nominee for governor in 2016, but he popped up over the weekend to decry an ad — from Rob McCord’s campaign, aimed at frontrunner Tom Wolf — as just too much negativity.

“I know the feeling of desperation when you’re losing, because you believe in yourself,” Rendell told a press conference, presumably in the act of clutching his pearls. “And I believe that Rob McCord believes in himself and believes that as governor he could do good things for the people of Pennsylvania. But that desire, that knowledge, should not overcome basic decency.”

Oh my!

Here’s the ad in question:


And whew, that is tough! Painful, even! But … also entirely fair.

Here’s what happened, according to various sources: In 2001, Wolf was the chairman — he says “honorary chairman” — of York Mayor Charlie Robertson’s re-election campaign. That campaign came to a halt when Robertson was arrested on charges of having helped incite a 1969 race riot that killed a young black woman. Testimony quoted Robertson, at the time of the incident, encouraging rioters to to “kill as many n– as you can.”

Now: All of this information was fresh when Robertson was arrested. And Wolf’s response, when asked on the day of the arrest about the issue, was that he would keep serving the campaign if Robertson “wants me to.” It turned out to be a moot issue: Robertson quickly withdrew from the race. (Later coverage suggested Wolf helped convince Robertson to withdraw, which is where the McCord ad maybe strikes a false note.)

But is it “indecent” — as Rendell would have it — to raise the issue now? Nope. There are many reasons we give our votes to candidates for office. It’s more than the sum of their position papers: Maybe we find them likable; maybe we simply believe they have good judgment. McCord is using the incident to call Wolf’s judgment into question. Far from being indecent, that seems a ripe topic for debate.

To be fair, there’s a couple of ways Wolf could’ve responded to this attack. He could’ve said the newspapers quoted him early enough in the process that he didn’t have the full picture of the allegations against Robertson that we have available to us 13 years later, and he didn’t want to act rashly. That would’ve been plausible. And it would’ve offered a defense of his judgment, telling voters that Wolf doesn’t sway immediately with the winds, but will pause to make sure he has the right facts.

Instead, Wolf’s response has been to A) decry McCord for going negative and B) release a campaign video featuring statements of support from black residents of York. Neither of which really addresses the central question about judgment. Voters will get to decide how best to weigh all this information, as they should.

Back to Rendell. Certainly, he’s been willing to throw the occasional elbow or two over the decades in pursuit of his political agenda. It’s part of his appeal! Certainly, he wasn’t too squeamish to defend Hillary Clinton in 2008, when she was engaged in a Pennsylvania primary campaign against Barack Obama that the New York Times called “mean, vacuous, desperate.”

“Let me say this,” Rendell said at the time. “You know that I have in my political career eschewed negative campaigning. But this is a rough and tumble, as Senator Clinton said, this is a tough election and the stakes are high. And everybody talks about not only what they want to do but talks about the weaknesses of what they think the other candidates” are.

Well then. It’s just politics.

Maybe Ed’s gone soft. Or maybe he just goes out of his way not to condemn negative campaigning when his buddies are engaged in it. Whatever. The old Ed Rendell would’ve taken the punch and thrown one back, instead of complaining about the fight; maybe he should teach friends like Tom Wolf to do the same.

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