HARRISBURG - Gov. Rendell, a serial offender of the verbal blunder, downplayed yesterday controversial remarks he made about how Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano would be perfect as the next Homeland Security chief because she has "no family" and "no life."

Rendell made the comments in a private conversation Tuesday at the National Governors Association meeting in Philadelphia - a conversation picked up by an open microphone.

"Janet's perfect for that job, because for that job you have to have no life. Janet has no family," Rendell was heard saying in a video clip aired nationally on CNN. "Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19, 20 hours a day to it."

Napolitano, Arizona's former U.S. attorney and its first female attorney general, is not married and has no children.

Rendell's remarks made national news and sparked debate when CNN commentator Campbell Brown said Tuesday night that she believed Rendell's comments smacked of sexism and "perpetuate stereotypes that put [women] in boxes."

Asked to explain the comments yesterday, Rendell said: "What I meant is that Janet is a person who works 24-7, just like I do. She has no life; neither do I."

For example, he said he arrived home Tuesday at 10:30 p.m., flipped on the television, and watched a budget program on Pennsylvania Cable News until 1 a.m.

"No person who has a life would do that," he said. "That's why, among other qualities, I hope, I am well-suited to be governor. To be governor and do the job well, you can't have a life."

Asked whether he thought the comments could be construed as insensitive, Rendell initially was unapologetic - but later apologized if his remarks offended some people.

"I guess if you stretch it, it could be taken by some people the wrong way. I certainly didn't mean it the wrong way," he said. "Janet is a friend of mine and she's a great, great governor, and she'll be a great director of Homeland Security. And if anyone out there was offended, I apologize. But you could say the exact same thing about me."

Through a spokeswoman, Napolitano said she appreciated the confidence Rendell had shown in her.

But the spokeswoman, Jeanine L'Ecuyer, would not say whether Napolitano thought the comment was sexist.

"There is an awful lot of other people out there that continue to do that," L'Ecuyer said.

This is not the first time Rendell has gotten into trouble over his off-the-cuff remarks.

In a 2004 conference call with Pittsburgh officials, Rendell expressed frustration with the legislature's reluctance to approve new taxes in this way: "They're cowards. I wish I could tell you how difficult it is getting them to do anything. . . . It's horrible. Everyone is afraid. If tomorrow, we could cure cancer if they raised taxes, they wouldn't raise them."

Two years later, while running for a second term as governor, Rendell told the editorial board of the Lancaster New Era that gambling brings "brightness and cheer" to some seniors who otherwise "lead very gray lives."

"But if you put them on the bus, they're excited," he said. "They're happy. They have fun. They see bright lights. They hear music. They pull that slot machine, and with each pull they think they have a chance to win."

And earlier this year, during the primary fight between President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rendell was widely criticized when he said there were some conservative white voters in Pennsylvania who are "probably not ready to vote for an African American candidate."

Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.