is a contributing editor of the American Spectator who writes from Harrisburg
To paraphrase W.C. Fields, on the whole, Pennsylvanians would rather their governors not come from Philadelphia.
Why? Consider some recent transactions by Gov. Rendell to his hometown:
The almost $7 million in state funds that Rendell "found" to settle last month's SEPTA strike with workers who were unhappy with an 11.5 percent pay increase.
The $49 million in state "inducements" Rendell just announced for Philadelphia's Navy Yard to help lure a solar-panel manufacturing company into the city in the hope of creating 400 jobs.
The recent surprise boost to the state contribution, from $25 million to $30 million, to help move the Barnes Museum from the Philly suburbs to the city.
The 40 percent increase in funding for city schools, from $806 million when Rendell took office to $1.1 billion today.
Since the nation's founding, only one other Philadelphia chief executive besides Rendell has led the commonwealth, Edwin Sydney Stuart, who was mayor from 1891 to 1895 and governor from 1907 to 1911. His view of the Harrisburg post can be summed up in his most famous quote:
"I was never happier than when I was mayor of Philadelphia."
Perhaps Rendell will want to update that sentiment as he prepares to leave office in 13 months:
"I was never happier than when I was giving money to Philadelphia."
As Pennsylvanians brace for the 2010 election cycle that will produce Rendell's successor, the dog that isn't barking is already making itself heard. Only one candidate, businessman Tom Knox, is a Philadelphian. Fortunately for Knox's gubernatorial ambitions, he lost his race to be mayor in 2006, although he had been a deputy mayor to Rendell.
Set aside spending for a moment, and a dearth of candidates from Pennsylvania's largest city seems remarkable. Philadelphia brims with institutions of education, world-class businesses, historic sites, museums, hospitals, vibrant faith communities, and more. It doesn't lack for leadership.
But it's not an incubator for Pennsylvania governors. Why? The answer seems plain in the history of the state and the city, along with Rendell's service as governor.
Philadelphia suffers from what Edwin Wolfe 2d calls in Philadelphia: A 300-Year History "up-country hostility against the stereotype of the city slicker." In the American federal system, where the key word in the nation's name as designed, ironically, in Philadelphia, is the United States of America, big cities are deliberately forced to reckon with other power centers - suburbs, rural areas, smaller cities, townships. Wolfe cites this sentiment, not atypical then or now, as expressed by Lancaster's Thaddeus Stevens at the state constitutional convention of 1838. Stevens, later a leading Republican congressman opposing slavery, sulfurously described Philadelphia as "a great and growing ulcer on the body politic" of Pennsylvania.
One can only imagine the political hay Stevens would have made out of Rendell's millions in state aid "found" for SEPTA, the Navy Yard, Philadelphia schools, and an art museum.
Fairly or not, Rendell's generosity toward his hometown overshadows his spending in other parts of the state and feeds the image of the city slicker ex-mayor in the state's executive chair doling out hard-earned tax dollars from the Joes and Joseys of Johnstown and Juniata to political pals in Philly.
Imagine if Stevens heard this from Rendell in a recent WHYY interview with Marty Moss–Coane:
"When I was mayor of the city of Philadelphia, we brought in a company to clean City Hall. They did an incredible job. We asked them to hire and train formerly homeless men. They did a great job training them. And those men performed brilliantly. It came time because the city had a strict code, we had to bid the contract. And the only way I could . . . ensure that this company continued was that we had to manipulate the bid documents in a way that it gave an incumbent the knowledge of how to bid better."
Whatever one may think of the generosity of assisting the homeless, what Wolfe calls "the stereotype of the city slicker" is hard to miss. Rendell breezily tells a reporter, yeah, he manipulated a no-bid contract when he was mayor. What's the big deal?
The big deal politically is that whether it's state money for SEPTA, or schools, or museums - or a no-bid city contract to clean City Hall - the deal-making reeks of the old-style smelly politics of the big city. That creates a considerable political obstacle when prominent Philadelphians seek gubernatorial votes in places such as Altoona or Aliquippa. In 2010, with Rendell's polls sagging, the memory will surely resonate.