Ed Rendell's Daily Agenda
by robert strauss
Ed Rendell is no wuss. There are too many problems to solve and connections to be made for him to worry about other people’s feelings. And now he has written a book about it: A Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great, inspired by his critique of the Philadelphia Eagles and the National Football League for cancelling a December 26, 2010, game against the Minnesota Vikings before a predicted blizzard had even started. “It made me think about a whole lot of anecdotes, and I just thought I should write about them,” says Rendell.
His apparent need to be in the public eye unsatiated by being district attorney, mayor, governor, and chair of the national Democratic Party, Rendell sits on several boards, has a contract with NBC-TV, is a partner at Ballard Spahr LLP, is a panelist on the Eagles postgame show on Comcast, and conducts myriad speaking engagements. His great joy, however, is in being a sort of healer, but on a national scale. “I love connecting people,” he says. “If I can use what I know and who I know to get things done for people who might need help, then that is satisfying.”
Rendell is breaking a sweat on the treadmill at The Sporting Club at the Bellevue, atop the parking garage next to the Hyatt. Having his office in the building makes membership to the gym “one of the perks of the place,” says Rendell, who in his salad days used to play basketball at the Club. He is a fixture at most home basketball games for his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.
Waiting for the first of several appointments, Rendell sits in his office with the door open so he can ask his office manager, Kaylan E. Dorsch, about what’s next. To her Rendell is “Gov” and to be respected, but with a humorous give and take. His son Jesse, his father’s right hand, comes in to talk about the Daily News sports column they collaborate on, but which goes under dad’s name. The subject this week is whether a 5-foot-11 linebacker the Eagles have drafted will be able to guard tall tight ends. Rendell is an unabashed Philadelphia sports fan, even though he grew up in New York.
A swift walk through the Bellevue garage and the back alleyways surrounding the Drake gets Rendell to Videolink. MSNBC wants him as a counterpoint to a Republican functionary analyzing the latest campaign fodder—mostly whether President Obama was using the anniversary of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden for political purposes. Rendell is contracted to do three to five hits per week on MSNBC, CNBC, or the network news programs. For Morning Joe, on MSNBC, he has to go to New York to be on set, but for most of the shows, he can go to a Videolink studio with a mock-up of the Philadelphia skyline as a backdrop. “You can see how often I come here,” he says, pointing to a sign above a door: The Ed Rendell Restroom.
Rendell has a conference call about the book tour. Some stops on the tour are self-made, with talks to constituents and political operatives all over the state and in places like Chicago, where he is friends with former Mayor Richard Daley, and New York, where he is buddies with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “What do you think? One-hundred fifty books for the Bloomberg event?” he says to a skeptical woman on the other end of the speakerphone. “Look, even if we don’t sell them, we have them for later.” It’s clear he didn’t do the book for the payday. “I may end up buying so many, I can’t possibly make money, but I want it to be fun,” he says.
High in a corner office at Ballard Spahr, Rendell waits for restaurateur Stephen Starr. “They asked me to bring my political photos here,” he says. But his most prized photo is one of him between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, the old boxing foes who had a somewhat contentious relationship even after their careers ended. “Ali was coming to receive an award, so I encouraged Joe to come, too,” he says—the healer even then.
Rendell catches a ride to a fundraising silent auction and dinner at the old Crystal Tea Room for Public Citizens for Children and Youth—a nonprofit educational advocacy group run by an old political ally, Shelly Yanoff. He rarely drives anywhere and has been known to ask his drivers for speed to get between his numerous appointments. Rendell is tired but enthusiastic, so Yanoff lets him give his pitch before dinner. He lists a dozen ways PCCY has helped him pass everything from more vaccinations for poor students to better pre-schools. “Shelly tells me she hasn’t seen my check, but I know I gave it,” he says to a crowd of about 300. “Do any of you think Shelly would fib a little to get another one from me?” He walks off the stage shaking hands, but then puts his arm around Yanoff and insists on photographers taking their photo together, the better to use it for more fundraising. He goes back alone to the elevators—there is another Phillies game on the tube tonight, and an early morning of connections to make the next day.
photography by michael persico