Politicians are supposed to watch what they say - especially when a nearby microphone might be on.

But, yesterday in Philadelphia, Gov. Ed Rendell made some blunt remarks that could be construed as insulting, if not sexist, about Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, chosen for Homeland Security chief by President-elect Barack Obama.

A spokesman for Rendell downplayed any controversy, saying that Pennsylvania's governor "meant no disrepect."

Rendell's words were picked up by an open microphone at the podium of the National Governors Conference, held yesterday morning at Independence Hall.

"Janet's perfect for that job," Rendell is heard to say. "Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19, 20 hours a day to it."

A clip can viewed on The Inquirer's Breaking News Blog: www.philly.com/philly/blogs/from_the_source.

"Wow," commented CNN's Campbell Brown. After saying she likes Rendell for his candor, she also took him to task for his characterization of Napolitano, 51, a Democrat who's served her state since 2002.

"If a man had been Obama's choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue?" Brown said.

"Is there an assumption that if you're family-free then you have no life? By some, yes," she continued.

"Your comments do perpetuate stereotypes that put us in boxes, both mothers and single women."

The previous two heads of Homeland Security - Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge - were men with families, but did anyone question their devotion? she asks.

Chuck Ardo, spokesman for Rendell, denied the remarks were sexist, saying the governor takes Napolitano's qualifications "for granted."

"His comments simply referred to the demands of the new position that she is going to take," Ardo said around noon. "He believes that public servants at that level of government have no lives, including himself."

"He intends to call her, but he meant no disrepect," he said. "I think anybody who has followed Ed Rendell's career knows that he is a strong believer in equality of all sorts, and has had strong women at the highest levels of his administrations."

The Arizona governor's office declined to comment.

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.
Staff writer Mario F. Cattabiani contributed to this article.