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Meet Ed Rendell
New Governor Led Philly Comeback

POSTED: 10:24 p.m. EST November 5, 2002

Now that Ed Rendell has been elected to the job he first contemplated 20 years ago, Pennsylvania will get to know a governor whose personal and political style is vastly different from those who came before.

His rumpled, exuberant persona endeared him to Philadelphians when he was their mayor from 1992 to 2000, and he used his considerable charm and common touch to help persuade voters throughout the state that a candidate from the City of Brotherly Love could understand their needs and wants.

Now comes the hard part -- governing. Rendell, the first Philadelphia candidate elected governor since 1914, will have to summon all of that charisma to get his agenda through a Legislature suspicious of the state's largest city and more accustomed to the reserved, buttoned-down style of his predecessors.

"It will be a fascinating question over the next four years. It will require a set of skills that he hasn't had to utilize," said Buzz Bissinger, author of "A Prayer for the City," a behind-the-scenes account of Rendell's first mayoral term.

Rendell, 58, who beat Republican Attorney General Mike Fisher, found himself in nearly the same situation more than a decade ago. Few people thought he could turn around Philadelphia, then a symbol of the urban decay that had afflicted cities nationwide.

The city teetered on bankruptcy, jobs evaporated by the tens of thousands, and residents fled to the suburbs in similar numbers. The municipal government was widely seen as incompetent.

But in a whirlwind first term, Rendell slashed city spending, turned over public jobs to private contractors and forced the all-powerful municipal unions to accept a wage freeze -- a concession that earned him their lasting enmity.

His efforts helped turn an inherited $250 million budget deficit into a surplus, a remarkable financial recovery that led to millions of dollars of Center City development, the 2000 Republican National Convention and a new civic pride. With Rendell as cheerleader-in-chief, Philadelphia was successfully promoted as a tourist destination.

He was a consummate schmoozer and master of the photo op, scrubbing a City Hall bathroom on his hands and knees and opening a municipal swimming pool by cannon-balling into it. He surrounded himself with talented aides, delegating much of the day-to-day management of the city to a hard-charging chief of staff named David Cohen.

Hailed as "America's mayor" by Vice President Al Gore, Rendell won a second term in a landslide.

However, for all his successes, he couldn't solve many of the systemic problems that still plague the city. The state government took over the failing public school system last year; entire city blocks are practically falling down; grinding poverty lingers. Critics say he ignored outlying neighborhoods in favor of the downtown area, a charge he vehemently denies.

And his volcanic temper and impulsiveness sometimes raised eyebrows. In 1989, Rendell bet $20 that a fellow football fan couldn't throw a snowball onto the field during an Eagles-Cowboys game at Veterans Stadium. He lost the bet and the fan's snowball hit a Cowboy in the back. In 1994, Rendell put a newspaper reporter in a headlock when he objected to her questions.

After leaving office, Rendell served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, heading up the party's fund-raising efforts during the 2000 presidential campaign. But he angered Democrats when he called on Gore to concede after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Republican George W. Bush.

A New York City native, Rendell came to Philadelphia in the early 1960s to attend the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from Villanova Law School in 1968, he joined the city prosecutor's office and toppled an incumbent district attorney in 1978. Rendell served two terms.

His political career was almost ended when he ran two consecutive losing campaigns in 1986 and 1987, first for governor and then mayor. But his winning mayoral bid came four years later, and the rest was history.

Rendell and his wife Marjorie O. Rendell, a federal appeals-court judge, married in 1971 and have a son, Jesse, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. Rendell is a big sports fan and has said he wants to resume his part-time job as a post-game commentator for the Philadelphia Eagles on a local sports cable network.





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