As Ed Rendell leaves the governor’s office, there have been several insightful looks at his eight years – this column from John Baer, this lengthy Inquirer piece by Angela Couloumbis, and this from our own Scott Detrow.
As somebody who covered Rendell’s two terms as mayor closely and followed him at some distance in Harrisburg, here’s my take on the man, the myth, the magic, the meltdowns:
Ed is a true leader.
He brings a vision to government, hires sharp, energetic people and generally empowers them to do their jobs. He’s a smart man with a head for policy and instincts for politics.
He’s an extraordinarily hard worker (he gets antsy and frustrated if he tries to relax), and he’s a truly gifted communicator.
He can be myopic, as committed leaders can, and forget there are other points of view and competing interests that have to be considered.
He can be a petulant baby when dealing with the media sometimes, and his outbursts of temper (sometimes driven by the pace he keeps) are at times amusing, often inexcusable.
But he came to Harrisburg with an agenda of boosting education funding and promoting economic development, and he’s achieved results in both areas, while making some progress on energy, health care, and some aspects of environmental policy.
On the negative side, Rendell has done almost nothing in the way of political reform, either as mayor or governor.
At the beginning of his second term as governor, he said he would work for merit selection of judges, campaign finance reform, and a smaller legislature. Such talk quickly took a back seat to his policy agenda.
It’s true there was powerful opposition, but he faced powerful opposition on education and other issues.
Both at city hall and the capitol, he always chose to spend his political capitol advancing his policy agenda rather than fighting for institutional reforms that would threaten the powers that be.
It’s a legitimate choice, and I have to add while as mayor Rendell didn’t bring political reform to the city, he did achieve some hard-won managerial reforms, in the way of re-tooled labor relations and more efficient organization of some city functions.
The other thing that must be said about Rendell is that he’s an extraordinary fundraiser, and was at times generous to his contributors in ways that, well, left an odor in the air.
John Martin wrote in the Inquirer about Rendell getting $300,000 in contributions from a Chicago-based money manager whose firm later earned a $4 million boost in fees from the state employee pension fund.
And there was a pair of stories my friend Erin Einhorn wrote as Rendell was leaving city hall in 1999. They involved the city hastily agreeing to buy a piece of land from a friend and contributor of Rendell for $4.5 million – a price questioned by some city officials – right after three members of the contributor’s family donated $75,000 to Rendell’s campaign fund.
In the end, the city never made the purchase, but I’m convinced that was because the agreement got media attention.
Rendell always said he favored campaign contribution limits, but he did awfully well without them. He always said the only thing a contributor got from him is access.