Former Gov. Ed Rendell on Saturday disputed a report that he and a group of business and political leaders might not buy the company that owns The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, and he lashed out at critics who challenged their interest or right to own the media properties.
The group's negotiations are ongoing, Rendell said in an interview with The Inquirer, and its offer was a civic gesture to save the papers.
"You'd think this was the first time some political people owned a newspaper," he said. "People are shocked that we would take over a newspaper and maybe have editorial input."
Saturday's developments marked the latest twist in the potential sale of Philadelphia Media Network Inc. (PMN), which owns the newspapers and the website, by the consortium of hedge funds and investment banks that bought it out of bankruptcy for $139 million in 2010.
Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor and Democratic National Committee chairman, is leading a group of prospective buyers that includes businessman Lewis Katz; Comcast Spectacor L.P. chairman Edward M. Snider; George E. Norcross III, an insurance executive and prominent New Jersey Democrat; William P. Hankowsky, chief executive officer of Liberty Property Trust; and Krishna "Kris" Singh, president and CEO of Holtec International Inc. of Marlton.
Rendell has been the only principal involved in the sale process to talk publicly about it. He also has indicated that the group of investors he leads is not the only bidder.
During a speaking engagement Monday organized by the Washington Square Citizens' League, Rendell was asked about the bid.
He told the audience the newspapers' owners had an obligation to reap the greatest profit they could from any sale, according to Paul Coyne, a past president of the nonprofit Citizens League who attended the session.
Rendell then said that he had heard his group's offer may not be the highest, but that it may have fewer "conditions," according to Coyne.
Evercore Partners Inc., the investment bank managing the sale, has declined to discuss it or the bidding process, as have representatives of PMN's largest shareholders, hedge funds Alden Global Capital and Angelo, Gordon & Co.
On Friday, journalists from the three newsrooms issued a statement criticizing the handling of the sale and insisting that the integrity of news reporting at the papers and website be guaranteed.
The statement, signed by nearly 300 staffers, said they "watched with dismay" in recent weeks as corporate management ordered articles dealing with the sale killed or altered over the objections of editors.
Gregory J. Osberg, PMN's chief executive and publisher, said he supported the journalists' message but disagreed that censorship had occurred.
Rendell's latest comments about a possible purchase of PMN came after a blogger, Laura Goldman, reported Saturday that she had just encountered him walking on Locust Street. Goldman, who writes the blog Naked Philadelphian, posted that she asked the former mayor about the bid for the city's two major newspapers.
According to Goldman, Rendell told her: "I don't think that we will be buying."
Hours later, Rendell backed off that statement. In an interview with The Inquirer, he said he believed negotiations were still ongoing.
He said he did not say that to Goldman because he did not want to get bogged down in a long conversation on the street. Plus, he did not realize who she was or that she would publish his remarks.
"I didn't say it wasn't going to happen," Rendell said. "Obviously, anything could happen."
After seeing Goldman's blog post, developer Bart Blatstein, who leads a separate group of potential buyers, said in an interview Saturday that he and his group remained interested in bidding for the papers but that they had not been invited to do so by PMN's owners.
In the interview Saturday, Rendell said many people had stopped him on the street to ask about the bid and wished him well. But he was also clearly wounded by the negative responses and political attacks.
"I tried to get into this to do something good," he said.