Making History in Harrisburg

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Photo by Lauren Karp / DP

Buoyed by his hometown popularity and a $40 million campaign, the Hon. Ed Rendell C’65 Hon’00 in November became the first Philadelphian to be elected Pennsylvania’s governor in 88 years. The former, two-term city mayor, a Democrat, won 53 percent of the vote in his contest against Republican Mike Fisher. 

Credited with helping to turn around a city on the verge of bankruptcy when he was mayor of Philadelphia 11 years ago in his gubernatorial campaign Rendell easily won votes from Democrats and Republicans in southeastern, suburban Pennsylvania. He wooed voters all over the state in his roving campaign bus. 

“For 20 months,” Rendell told reporters on election night, “I have been to small- and medium-sized towns where the despair and pessimism is so heavy in the air that when you walk out of the bus you can almost touch it … Just like we did in January of 1992, when we inherited a Philadelphia that was bereft of hope, bereft of optimism, bereft of any vitality, we can turn things around all over Pennsylvania, and we’re going to begin doing that tomorrow.”

In addition to economic revitalization for the commonwealth’s cities, another prominent issue in the campaign was education. To begin to decrease the gap between affluent and poorer school districts, Rendell has said he will increase state aid for education, allowing districts to cut their property taxes. He says the money could come from legalizing slot machines at race tracks and cutting government waste.

When he takes office on January 21 Rendell will face a Republican-dominated state legislature, raising the question of how effective he can be. “In Harrisburg, governors are just passing through; the legislature is there forever and the bureaucracy even longer,” Philadelphia political consultant Larry Ceisler told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

But Rendell’s personality could win people over. “His style seems to be he tries to envelop people,” Stephen MacNett, general counsel to the Senate GOP majority, was quoted saying. “He’s perceived to be flexible, not dogmatic on detail—and to that extent he has a good chance of success.”

While laying out his vision for Pennsylvania, Rendell added that his wife, the Hon. Marjorie O. Rendell CW’69, will “be a different type of first lady … because she also has a job of awesome responsibility [as a judge for the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals], which she does brilliantly. But she will still serve as a great role model for Pennsylvania.”

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