Gov. Ed Rendell (D)
Elected: 2002, term expires Jan. 2011, 2nd term.
Born: Jan. 5, 1944, New York, NY .
Education: U. of PA, B.A. 1965, Villanova U., J.D. 1968.
Family: Married (Marjorie); 1 child.
Military career: Army Reserve, 1968-74.
Elected office: Dist. atty., City of Philadelphia, 1977-85; Philadelphia mayor, 1991-99.
Ed Rendell, a Democrat, was elected governor of Pennsylvania in 2002, the first Philadelphian elected to that position since 1914. He won re-election in 2006. Rendell (Ren DEL) grew up in Manhattan, in an apartment overlooking the Hudson on Riverside Drive. His father was a middleman in the women’s clothing business and an ardent New Dealer; his mother’s family owned a big women’s clothing manufacturer that clashed often with unions. After his father died when he was 14, Rendell went through a difficult phase and was thrown out of Riverdale Country School for a year. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and from the Villanova University School of Law, and never left Philadelphia. He got a job prosecuting homicides in the office of Philadelphia District Attorney Arlen Specter, then a Republican. In 1977, Rendell was elected district attorney at age 33, and served two terms. The office is high-profile not just in Philadelphia, but also in the entire Philadelphia media market, where some 40% of Pennsylvania voters live. Former occupants are now Pennsylvania’s governor and the senior U.S. senator (Specter). In 1985, Rendell started running for governor. Since 1955, the two major parties have alternated in the governor’s office every eight years. Republican Gov. Richard Thornburgh was ineligible to run in 1986, and it seemed it was the Democrats’ turn. In the Democratic primary, Rendell faced former Auditor General Robert Casey, who had lost in gubernatorial primaries in 1966, 1970 and 1978. This time Casey won, 51%-40%. Rendell carried the Philadelphia market, but in the rest of the state, he seemed perhaps too young, too brash, and too Philadelphia.
|Ed Rendell (D)||2,470,517||(60%)|
|Lynn Swann (R)||1,622,135||(40%)|
|Ed Rendell (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (53%)
In 1987, Rendell ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary against Philadelphia’s first black mayor, Wilson Goode. At 43, Rendell seemed to be through politically. But in 1991, with Goode ineligible to run again and the city’s finances in dreadful shape, Rendell ran again, campaigning with his usual high energy. He won the Democratic primary 49%-27%. In the general election, he faced former Mayor Frank Rizzo. But Rizzo died of a heart attack in July 1991, and Rendell won easily in November, 64%-30%. Especially in his first term, Rendell clashed with public employee unions and whittled away at their generous contracts. Brash, cheerful, rumpled and sports-crazy, he became a popular public figure in the Philadelphia area. In his second term in 1998, he did a stint as a commentator on a Philadelphia Eagles football post-game show on cable television. In 2000, out of office as mayor, Rendell was named Democratic National Chairman. He campaigned for presidential nominee Al Gore, who had called him “America’s mayor.”
Rendell set out to run again for governor in 2002, when two-term Republican Gov. Tom Ridge would be ineligible to run. In 2001, Ridge was named President George W. Bush’s homeland security adviser and was succeeded by Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker. In the Democratic primary, Rendell faced Auditor General Bob Casey Jr., whose father had defeated him 16 years earlier. Early polls showed a close race, and many thought that Rendell, as in 1986, would be seen as too pro-Philadelphia for the rest of the state. Casey, like his father, opposed abortion rights and gun control. Rendell had the opposite view on both. On economic issues, Rendell had an economic development initiative for parts of the state that missed the 1990s boom. Casey concentrated on extending government benefits, creating low-cost health insurance for unemployed workers and raising the minimum wage by a $1 an hour. There was also a stylistic contrast. Rendell traveled the state in a bus caravan, campaigning with his usual brio, while Casey was tightly scripted, polite and earnest.
Pennsylvania allows unlimited contributions to state campaigns, and this was a big money race. The two candidates spent more than $25 million on the primary. Rendell raised huge amounts from his Philadelphia and national contacts. Casey raised over $5 million from unions, including public employee unions still bitterly opposed to Rendell. Casey ran largely negative ads, calling Rendell’s Philadelphia story a half-truth and blaming him for the conditions of the city’s public schools, which had been taken over by the state. Some of the Casey ads were scorching; a Philadelphia police officer was shown saying about Rendell, “He lies. Cops deal with liars all the time, and we have no respect for anybody who lies.” The Democratic state committee endorsed Casey, and he counted on local endorsements from influential state Sen. Vince Fumo and union leaders to dent Rendell’s margin in Philadelphia. Rendell spent $740,000 on Election Day activities, including $450,000 cash to be handed out in the city’s 66 wards. But his popularity in the suburbs was even more decisive. Rendell won 79% of the vote in Philadelphia and even more in the suburbs. Altogether he carried the eight counties in the Philadelphia media market 79%-21%. Overall, Rendell won 57%-43%, though he carried only two of the 59 counties outside the Philadelphia market, Lancaster and the county containing Penn State University.
After the primary, Rendell led conservative Attorney General Mike Fisher in the polls, but not by much. Ridge and Schweiker had high job ratings. Pennsylvania elects judges in off-years, the auditor and treasurer in presidential years, and so there is a statewide partisan race every year, and Republicans had been winning almost all of them since 1990. Republicans held majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Fisher had more experience in state government. He had been elected to the state House in 1974 and the state Senate in 1980 and as attorney general in 1996 and 2000. His opposition to abortion rights was by no means a political liability in Pennsylvania. Nor was his platform—cutting the corporate income tax, expanding the state’s prescription drug program with revenue from gambling, and requiring school districts to give voters a choice between the property tax and an earned income tax. After the primary, Rendell was almost out of money.
Fisher raised $14 million for the campaign, but Rendell did much better, with $42 million for the entire campaign, more than any other candidate in 2002 except the incumbent governors of California, Texas and New York. In the end, Rendell won on his popularity in the Philadelphia media market, where he won 68%-30%. Outside of Pennsylvania’s two big media markets, Fisher led 58%-39%. But Rendell also did extremely well in the suburbs, where Republicans have a huge registration advantage and where they usually win in statewide races. Turnout was higher in the Philadelphia media market, which cast 41% of the state’s votes.
Once in office, Rendell set about paring the state budget. He had problems with the Republican-controlled General Assembly, a far more partisan and far less malleable body than the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council he had been used to. He proposed a 33% increase in the state income tax to help pay for early childhood education, but legislators scaled it down to 10%. His ambitious plan for slot machines to pay for property tax relief failed. The state got stuck in a bitter, nine-month budget stalemate after Rendell vetoed the $4 billion education appropriation.
But in his second year in office, Rendell won a victory on the most important piece of his agenda—slot machines. The fractious issue of legalizing gambling to pay for property tax relief created divisions within both parties. Rendell traveled the state in support of his legalized gambling plan and promised Republicans that he would not campaign against them if they supported his tax package, which included the slots proposal. He said an expansion of gambling would staunch the flow of dollars to adjacent states like Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia, all of which permit slots and other forms of wagering. The plan passed in July. The final deal authorized as many as 61,000 slot machines at 14 locations, more slots than any state other than Nevada. The 14 licenses for horse racing tracks, resorts and casinos were expected to bring in $1 billion per year in revenues to help the state reduce property taxes by an average of 20% statewide.
Also in 2004, the Legislature passed several items on his environmental agenda, including a bill requiring that 18% of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources within 15 years and one that provided funding for rebuilding sewer and water systems. In November, Rendell won a Pittsburgh bailout package that gave the city new taxing authority. But he failed to secure a permanent funding solution for troubled transit systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, caught between urban mass transit needs and those of rural areas seeking dollars for aging highways and bridges. His relations with the Legislature remained stormy. When asked to assess his own performance after two years, Rendell described his achievements as “winning ugly.” Ever the sports fan, he postponed the annual budget address in 2005 “in consideration of potential scheduling difficulties for those traveling out of state during the days immediately preceding Feb. 8.” Translation: The Eagles were in the Super Bowl and he was planning to attend.
In May 2005, Rendell suffered a blow that threatened to kill his signature achievement. A companion bill to the legalized gambling legislation allowed school districts to opt into the property tax relief system; they would then receive a share of the gambling revenues in exchange for lowering property tax rates. The vast majority of the state’s 501 school districts, it turned out, voted against participating in the distribution scheme, in part because opting in would make it more difficult for them to increase property taxes in the future. That made it difficult for Rendell to enact property tax relief.
There was more bad news for him starting in July, when legislators voted to increase their pay from $69,700 to about $81,000, a figure on the low end since many were also entitled to extra pay for being committee chairmen, vice chairmen or members of the leadership. And they took their raise right away, despite a state constitutional clause that bars legislators from taking salary raises in the same term that they are passed in. Rendell signed the bill, which also increased pay for judges and executive branch officials, but said he would not accept his own raise. Legislative pay raises are never popular with the voting public, but this one, with increases ranging from 15% to 34% and passed without debate at 2:30 a.m. as lawmakers prepared to leave for the summer, created a firestorm. In November 2005, at the first opportunity to register their anger, voters ousted one state Supreme Court justice and nearly ousted another. This jarring result, the first time a justice had lost a retention race, spurred the Legislature to action. Eight days after the election, Rendell signed a bill repealing the raises.
Between the ill will surrounding the pay raise and his failure to enact statewide property tax relief, the cornerstone of his agenda, Rendell entered 2006 in a less than ideal position. His poll ratings were decent, but in May, it became clear that the pay raise fiasco remained fresh in voters’ minds as 17 legislators lost in primaries. But in June, Rendell got the silver bullet he had been seeking. He signed into law a $1 billion property tax cut, the largest in state history, with senior citizens slated to receive tax relief immediately, even before gambling revenues began to flow—an important consideration in a state with the second-largest elderly population after Florida.
Republicans nominated former professional football player Lynn Swann, a Hall of Famer who starred on the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl champion teams of the 1970s and settled in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Swann dismissed Rendell’s property tax plan as a “Band-aid solution” and promised “real property tax relief” pegged to passage of a constitutional amendment that would replace the current assessment-based system with one based on the purchase price of the home or other real property. Rendell, one of the most prolific fundraisers in American politics, had a large cash advantage. He began 2006 with $12 million in the bank, and had $10 million more cash-on-hand than Swann through mid-September, enabling him to blanket the state in ads touting his accomplishments. He built a double-digit lead in the polls and ended up with a runaway 60%-40% victory, powered by huge margins in the Philadelphia media market. As expected, he won big in the city (89%-11%), but he also racked up remarkable margins in the vote-rich Philadelphia suburbs that once provided the foundation for Republican statewide victories.
Rendell declared that this, his 14th election, would be his last, and waved away speculation that he was interested in running for president. He again sparred with the Legislature over the budget and ordered a shutdown of state services and an employee furlough in July 2007. It lasted one day, until agreement was reached on a $27 billion budget and the $945 million in transportation spending Rendell wanted. His efforts to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike for 75 years for $13 billion were met with more resistance. In February 2009, he proposed giving $400 rebates to low earners but abandoned the plan the following month. His proposals to extend health insurance to 800,000 households in 2007, scaled back to 250,000 in 2008, failed to pass.
Rendell played an outsized role in national politics in 2008, despite his stated lack of interest in the vice presidency. He said, “If I’m asked a question, I answer it and I tell the truth. That probably isn’t a good idea for someone who is No. 2 on the ticket.” Former President Bill Clinton had appointed his wife, Marjorie Rendell, to a federal appeals judgeship in 1997, and his feelings for the Clintons remained warm. He endorsed New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008 and became a major spokesman in her primary battle with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. But he did not excel in the role, for the same reason he was a poor choice as a presidential running mate. When Clinton failed to clinch the nomination by Super Tuesday on February 5, Rendell said, “It sure didn’t look like they had a game plan after Super Tuesday.” He stirred more controversy when he said of Pennsylvania in February: “You’ve got some conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate.”
After Clinton’s victories on March 4 in Ohio and Texas, there was no major contest until the Pennsylvania primary April 22, and Rendell took command of the Clinton campaign in the state, hiring top staff members, dictating schedules, organizing events and determining where the candidate and Bill Clinton would appear. He spoke warmly of Clinton as “the best prepared Democratic presidential contender,” even while responding to questions with a frankness that would make most politicians wince. Rendell rejoiced when Clinton carried Pennsylvania 55%-45%. Obama won Philadelphia by a wide margin, but Clinton ran ahead of him in the suburban counties, a contrast to her usual weakness in affluent suburbs and perhaps a testament to Rendell’s popularity there.
When Obama became the nominee, Rendell switched gears and heartily campaigned for him while taking potshots at Republican opponent John McCain. “Everything Senator McCain has done has been to widen the gap between the richest and most powerful corporations and small businesses,” he said. Even as McCain continued to target Pennsylvania, Rendell insisted Obama would carry the state, which he did by 54%-44%. After the campaign, Rendell backed the new president’s economic stimulus bill as head of the National Governors Association. In April 2009, Rendell played a key role in persuading Sen. Specter to switch back to the Democratic Party, which he had left after being elected district attorney in 1965. Along with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, he promised to support Specter in the 2010 election.
Like other governors around the country, Rendell was preoccupied in 2008 and 2009 with the state’s own recession-induced troubles. In October 2008, he ordered state agencies to cut spending by 4% to help address an expected $1.6 billion budget shortfall. In January 2009, Rendell told the unions there would be no pay increases and possible furloughs. He asked the Legislature to approve video poker, with proceeds going to tuition relief.