TODAY, the city says goodbye to Ed Rendell. Of course the whole state will too, but for many in this city, Rendell was not just The Governor, but Our Governor.
He probably always will be . . . at least for those who don't still consider him our mayor.
He rode into state office two years after pulling off a remarkable turnaround of a city teetering on the brink. The turnaround not only involved bringing the city from the jaws of bankruptcy, but also adding a new sheen to the city. He began building things: the Convention Center, the Avenue of the Arts, the start of new stadiums. It almost seemed he could do anything.
He might have been under the same impression when he arrived in Harrisburg. That didn't last long. Even the force of personality wasn't able to win over a Republican state House with not much fondness for Philadelphia. Rendell's first budget took nine months to resolve.
But this progressive pragmatist knew how to stay in the ring. Not only that, but the fight seemed to strengthen his resolve - and his politics. The Republicans seemed to make Rendell more Democrat: he fought for early-education dollars, pulled off a last-minute save of SEPTA by shifting new federal highway funds into the agency, added the first-ever state funding of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). He brought his considerable intelligence to issues of health-care reform, energy and the environment.
He gets the persistence award for pushing gambling. Though voters here rejected it in polls, it's clear that gamblers haven't: In 2010/11, the state has captured $300 million in revenue from gaming. Most in the state saw their share in a property-tax reduction (Philadelphians get a wage-tax cut.)
With one casino open and one apparently doomed, gaming is still a hard sell in this town, though in Harrisburg, it was easier. His across-the-aisle skills there helped to forge an bill that had limits and ladders for getting over them. Few were surprised that table games came as fast as they did.
Rendell is smart enough, and appealing enough to be a natural for the national stage. (His daily bath of Teflon doesn't hurt either.) Given the way things are going, his particular art of fusing progressive ideas with practical politics will be a welcome addition to the national scene.
Whatever he ends up doing, we are sure it will be interesting. We're also sure that the concerns of Philadelphia won't be far from his mind. *