If Gov. Rendell ever runs for public office again, there's one vote he'll have to work hard to regain: that of Marti Hottenstein, a Bucks County mother whose son died in 2006 from a prescription drug overdose.
Hottenstein recently was on the receiving end of one of the governor's by-now infamous blowups when she showed up at a press conference in the Capitol two weeks ago and questioned him about funding cuts to drug and alcohol treatment programs.
During the press conference, Rendell appeared visibly pained as she asked her question. Afterward he walked over to Hottenstein to talk to her.
That's when the trouble began.
Hottenstein said she told him that her son Karl died in 2006 after taking methadone, a medication used to treat narcotic withdrawal and dependence. She showed the governor a picture of Karl she wears around her neck.
"Suddenly, it was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," said Hottenstein, who has started a non-profit foundation in her son's honor called How to Save a Life. "His face got red. And he started raising his voice. Then he stormed off … I was like, are you kidding me? I bury my son, and this is how you treat me?"
Two people who witnessed the incident confirmed Hottenstein's account.
What set the governor off, apparently, was when Republican Rep. Gene DiGirolamo - one of the legislature's most outspoken advocates for drug and alcohol treatment programs - walked up to him and Hottenstein. At that point, Rendell began yelling that Hottenstein should ask DiGirolamo, of Bucks County, and "his party" about why they are unwilling to raise taxes in Pennsylvania to help find more money for important programs.
Chuck Ardo, Rendell's spokesman who witnessed the exchange, said the governor's response was "impassioned, but not directed toward her."
"We have all seen the governor when his passion overwhelms his demeanor," Ardo said. "... But I think what she saw was the frustration that the governor feels at being unable to fully fund all the programs he believes merit full funding."
It is not the first time Rendell has let his temper slip. His confrontations with reporters have been exhaustively detailed, including one incident back from 1994, while he was Philadelphia's mayor, when he grabbed the neck of a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter. Two years ago, he also grabbed the tape recorder of a Patriot News of Harrisburg reporter and refused to give it back for a few minutes.