'CLOUT WAS BORN from politics. Internal politics."

That's how retired Daily News assistant managing editor Gar Joseph recalls the genesis of the column he founded 20 years ago.

It was the mid-1990s - O.J. Simpson acquitted, Oklahoma City federal building bombed, Eagles kelly green ditched, Million Man March, Bill Clinton, Spice Girls, Pepsi Kona - and Joseph's job apparently was on the line.

"Latest city desk wanted him gone. Execution aimed for Christmas week," Joseph said, slipping into the third person for reasons we don't understand. "An insider disagreed. Leaked the plan. The target went to editor Zack Stalberg ahead of the hit team. Sold him on a two-day-a-week column-story-gossip page called Clout. Rounded up allies."

Stalberg agreed. Granted his political editor a pardon. Reportedly paraphrased a quote from The Godfather. When Vito Corleone tells Amerigo Bonasera he will take care of the men who assaulted his daughter, but may come asking for a favor in return one day.

" 'Until that day, consider this justice a gift,' " Stalberg said, according to Joseph.

(We should mention here that Stalberg, now retired and perfecting his "slacking skills" in New Mexico, has practically no recollection of any of this. But he also says Joseph's story is "entirely conceivable." So we'll leave it at that.)

The first Clout column ran in the Daily News on Jan. 30, 1996. Bylines: Cynthia Burton, John Baer, Gar Joseph. Dozens of people would contribute over the next two decades. Today it's still going strong . . . somehow.

"The thing I always loved about it," Stalberg said, "was, whoever was writing it could share relatively small pieces of information but tell an honest story and help people understand how the system worked and what was screwed up about Philadelphia and all that. It was just a great device."

But perhaps former Councilman Rick Mariano put it best the other day:

"The only thing harder than doing time in federal prison is reading about yourself in Clout when you are an elected official in Philadelphia," said Mariano, who did four years in prison on corruption charges. "I read it every week in the pen just to see who was dumber than me!"

So, without further ado, in honor of the 20th anniversary, we've compiled some of our favorite Clout moments and characters. In no particular order, of course.

Ed Rendell: Never change

Edward G. Rendell. Mayor. Governor. Ed. Fast Eddie. You hairy-chested sonuvabitch! What can we say? Oh, how we've enjoyed watching you chase women and hoagies.

Remember that time when you made a pass (to put it mildly) at Philadelphia Magazine writer Lisa DePaulo while she was spending the day with you? It was for a story, Ed. But, oh, man, did you get busted. DePaulo dished and the story even made it to the Washington Post. You responded by describing your (very) sexually suggestive remarks as "salty and earthy."

Years later, you raised eyebrows at the Famous 4th Street Deli's Election Day luncheon, strolling in for a sandwich with a "tall, elegant blonde" by your side, as Clout reported. That would be Dr. Kirstin Snow, then an employee of the commonwealth you governed.

"Rendell and Snow arrived late and lingered after the crowd departed. Snow, who holds the 2004 Mrs. Pennsylvania title, was dressed with Jackie O panache, in a peach-colored dress and coat with high heels and dark wraparound sunglasses. And it sure looked like she had won Ed's vote," reporter Catherine Lucey wrote in May 2010.

Just friends, of course, as you and Snow later clarified in a Philly Mag story that explored rumors that you were having an affair. Yet you agreed to pose for a photo, grinning as Snow stood behind you, her arms resting on your shoulders. Pure Rendell right there. Never really sorry for anything.

There were probably other women. We lost track.

Our readers repeatedly saw you bare-chested, opening city pools each year by jumping into the water with (smiling but possibly traumatized?) local children.

"So what's wrong with being topless?" Rendell asked Clout last year.

Nothing, Ed, nothing. But thank God there were no cameras in the locker room of the Sporting Club at the Bellevue. There are so many stories of you in your birthday suit. They've become part of the fabric of Philadelphia. The fabric you refused to wear, time and time again.

As Clout reported last year:

"Most of the guys wore towels around their waists. Ed was in the minority who didn't," a former Sporting Club member reminded us, horrifyingly. "He's a hairy guy, though, so it looked like he was wearing a sweater."

Then there was the time Rendell was holding court while on the toilet. The ongoing conversation continued unabated.

"They kept following him as he walked into a stall, sat down and kept telling stories. Like, three guys standing there listening," said another former member.

Just this week, for chrissake, we ran into a guy in our office with a similar story. Seriously, Ed, has anyone in this city not seen you naked?

Well, you ain't gonna change your ways now. Carry on.

Vick tax credit: Rejected

In 2009, Clout offered to save the Eagles $10,000. They left it on the table. You believe that?

Sure, Michael Vick did 18 months in prison for dogfighting. But that meant the team could've recouped 0.625 percent of his $1.6 million first-year salary through the Mayor's Office for the Reentry of Ex-Offenders, which offered a $10,000 tax credit for employees who hire them. The Eagles' bean counters weren't interested.

"It was never considered," Eagles spokeswoman Pamela Crawley told Clout shortly after the quarterback was signed, as if we were off our rocker for considering such a thing.

Fine. But maybe if Clout owned the Eagles, they wouldn't suck so much. Yeah, we're talking to you, Jeff Lurie.

Milton Street: A free radical

Sometimes we wonder if Milton Street's life began on a faraway planet - Miltonia? - that is home to scores of people who shared his knack for looking like an electroshock-therapy patient in almost every photograph. (See attached pic, or spend a minute or two on a Google image search.)

He's been a constant presence in Clout over the years, usually doing and saying things that make you really stop and think: Um, what the hell just happened?

We're not even talking about the federal prison term he served after getting convicted in 2008 of failing to pay taxes on $3 million in income. Or his run as the head of Notlim, the company that landed a lucrative service contract at Philadelphia International Airport when Milton's brother, John Street, was mayor. Or that time in the late 1980s when he shut down traffic near Temple University by parking his food truck sideways in a "one-man protest against parking harassment."

We're talking more about Milton's vow in 2011 to "wax eloquent all up and down" during a proposed Democratic mayoral primary debate with Michael Nutter. Or his appearance the following year outside the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., where he hawked some big ol' buttons that featured President Obama's face.

And who could forget last year's Democratic mayoral primary? The media complained that the race - Milton vs. Jim Kenney vs. Lynne Abraham vs. Anthony Williams vs. Nelson Diaz vs. Doug Oliver (whatever happened to that guy?) - was a snooze, but at least Milton kept it interesting.

It was Milton who pragmatically noted during one debate that the city couldn't solve its pension woes by stretching "a net across the sky, catch meteorites, and sell sky rocks."

Milton resurfaced last fall, promising to add a new chapter to the Porngate email scandal by sharing unreleased emails he received from a "Deep Throat" source. Ever the public servant, Milton said he had spent many hours reviewing the material.

"It's easy to look at if you're in the quietness of your own home," he explained in November. "You figure, 'Oooh, I didn't know people did that!' "

Asked about his guilty pleasure at last May's mayoral debate, Milton said he liked "grinding up green, leafy vegetables to deal with free radicals running around in my stomach."

Marge and in charge

In 2012, reporter Chris Brennan - possibly delirious from years of working on Clout - decided to hold a competition to award the weathered 34-inch Adirondack baseball bat once wielded by legendary City Commissioners Chairwoman Marge Tartaglione to one lucky winner. Democratic strategist Joe Corrigan correctly answered Brennan's three trivia questions:

What year was Tartaglione arrested and accused of illegally moving voting machines? Answer: 1978. (She later was exonerated.)

Tartaglione came to be known as one of the city's three "Boom-Boom Sisters," after Inquirer columnist Steve Lopez referred to two others that way in 1987. Who were the others? Answer: former Councilwomen Joan Krajewski and Ann Land.

To whom did Tartaglione pose this question during a city commissioners meeting: "Are you finished? Then wipe yourself"? Answer: Former City Commissioner Eugene E.J. Maier.

Green family tree

Sometimes it's hard to keep all of Philadelphia's various political family lines straight.

When writing last summer about former City Councilman Bill Green's interest in mounting a mayoral bid, Clout reached out to his father, former Mayor Bill Green, for insight. Having multiple Bill Greens in the same column led to all sorts of internal confusion.

So we devised a Ray's Pizza-style classification system to keep everything crystal-clear. First came Old Original Bill Green, who graced the Earth . . . a long, long time ago. Then came Old Famous Bill Green, a congressman and Democratic city chairman in whose honor a federal building was named. He was followed by Famous Bill Green, who became a mayor and congressman, and who begat Just Bill Green, the city councilman and School Reform Commission chairman.

Got that? If not, we have a chart in the office. Stop by.

Cheers, Nutter

Don't try to hide, Philly pols. Resistance is futile. Clout will find you. But you won't really mind.

Case in point: In 2008, Mayor Michael Nutter left the city on a top-secret vacation. His staff wouldn't say where. They had a weird tradition of keeping his vacation locales private.

Clout, however, found Nutter's hotel in Aruba. Lucey and Brennan sent the mayor a bottle of chardonnay. But there was some sort of mix-up and room service mistakenly delivered the bottle - and then another bottle. So Nutter got two.

"Well, everyone knows he drinks chardonnay," Brennan recalled Thursday. "But yes, we wanted to say: We see you."

Couchgate: Solved

We're particularly proud of solving the City Hall scandal known as Couchgate. That was when crafty Councilman Ed Neilson (allegedly) snagged ex-Councilman Jim Kenney's pleather love seat when Kenney vacated his office to run for mayor early last year. The way it was told to us: Neilson and a staffer just moseyed down the hall and took it out of Kenney's old office.

"I assume it was him on one end and his staff member on the other," a source said.

But then Neilson lost his reelection bid in the May primary - couch karma, dare we say? - and Clout grilled him in June when he told Council he was resigning early to run in a state House special election.

Whatever, Councilman. So what happened to the couch?

"You know, the couch? Who are you going to bequeath it to?" reporter Wendy Ruderman asked Neilson.

"I returned it to Jimmy's office because I think he may need it in his office. The mayor's office on the second floor is very large," Neilson said, adding: "I only borrowed it, though."

So you borrowed it, then put it back in Kenney's office? Ruderman wouldn't let him off the hook.

"It's in my office, still," Neilson said. Then, Ruderman elicited what we consider to be a confession: "I just borrowed it for a couple of months, that's all. I'm just going to put it back in Jimmy's office so nobody else steals it."

Steals it, huh? Interesting word choice.

Case closed.

- William Bender and

David Gambacorta,

with ex-Clout team members

Chris Brennan,

Associated Press reporter

Catherine Lucey, Inquirer editorial

writer Cynthia Burton, and, of course, Clout founder/godfather/overlord

emeritus Gar Joseph.

215-854-5255

On Twitter: @wbender99