Edward G. Rendell

John F. Street
Arlin M. Adams

“America’s Mayor,” Ed Rendell has been a major part of the Philadelphia political landscape for over three decades, most notably as mayor and then as governor of Pennsylvania. “I don't know anybody who can communicate like Ed Rendell can, and I think it's because he tells people what he believes…He doesn't waste a lot of time trying to tell you what you want to hear. He tells you what he wants to say…and people believe him,” explained Rendell’s longtime friend Michael Stiles in 1997.

R endell graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (1965) and Villanova Law School (1968). He began working in the district attorney’s office, where he gained a reputation for his passion (and his temper). He won election as the youngest district attorney in Philadelphia history in 1977. After serving two popular terms, he left to run for governor in 1986, losing to Bob Casey, Sr. in the Democratic primary. The following year, he ran for mayor of Philadelphia, but lost in the primary to incumbent Mayor W. Wilson Goode.

After a few years working as a lawyer, Rendell was ready to get back into politics. He ran for mayor again in 1991, this time with a different outcome. Rendell was set to face former Mayor Frank Rizzo in the general election, but Rizzo passed away during the summer, and Rendell easily defeated his replacement.

Rendell entered the mayoral office facing huge budget deficits and other economic problems. As mayor, he eliminated a $250 million deficit, reduced business and wage taxes, implemented a balanced budget, and oversaw five straight years of budget surpluses. Under his watch, much of the revitalization of Center City took place, and the city grew as a tourist destination. Rendell waged initiatives to improve the city’s neighborhoods and was tough in negotiating new deals with the city’s union workers. His gregarious style and unabashed Philadelphia boosterism were also essential to his popularity. The spirit and pride of the city appeared reignited. Rendell gained national prominence during his administration.

Rendell shared the 1995 Philadelphia Award with City Council President (and future Mayor) John F. Street. Upon receiving the award, the two praised one another for “avoiding the political bickering that can paralyze a government.” Rendell had previously opposed Street’s candidacy for reelection to City Council, so the ability to overcome their differences and find common ground to put the city first earned them this prize. Ron Naples, chair of the award trustees, commented, “There is so much cynicism today about politicians and the process of governing that it's refreshing to find two leaders working together as do Mayor Rendell and Council President Street.”

Nearing the end of his second term in 1999, Rendell resigned to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a position he held throughout the 2000 presidential election. In 2002, Rendell was elected governor of Pennsylvania. A major and successful initiative of his first term was a plan to reduce property taxes by legalizing slot machines in the state and taxing their revenue. Legalized gambling activities were expanded to include poker and table games. Rendell gained reelection in 2006 and continued to fight for his policies, which included increasing public school funding, investing in alternative energy projects, and (unsuccessfully) pushing for stricter gun laws.

Throughout his political career, Rendell gained a reputation for being a passionate leader whose alternately combative and enthusiastic style engendered strong feelings from both his allies and his opponents. Known as a straight shooter, Rendell achieved great popularity in Philadelphia, a city where his bluntness and toughness served him well.

The ex-governor was soon hired as a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.

Peter Garavuso

Sources: Buzz Bissinger, “Reflections on Rendell’s Reign at Twilight,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 18, 2009; Angela Couloumbis, “Stormy Tenure Ends,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 16, 2011; Howard Goodman, “Rendell was a ‘Shoo-In’ for Recognition,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 9, 1997; Peter Nicholas, “Rendell and Street Share an Award Recognizing 2 who Can Work Together,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 14, 1996; Marissa Sharples, “Edward Rendell,” Pennsylvania State University, http://www.pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/Rendell__Edward.html; Ben Yagoda, “Mayor on a Roll,” New York Times, May 22, 1994. Photo: Image courtesy of The Governor’s Office, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Comment: Rendell is well known for his love of sports. He is a longtime Eagles season ticket holder and serves as an analyst on the local post game show on Comcast Sportsnet. Photo credit: Philadelphia Magazine. Photograph by Justin James Muir