Al Gore may not have invented the Internet, but he sure was right about one thing: Ed Rendell was “America’s mayor.” Who else could have dug Philadelphia out of its massive fiscal problems – ones so bad that we were on the cusp of bankruptcy?
When Rendell became mayor on Jan. 6, 1992, he inherited a $250 million deficit and the lowest credit rating of any major city in the United States. During his tenure, he balanced Philadelphia's budget and generated five consecutive years of budget surpluses while cutting business and wage taxes.
Rendell did the impossible during his first term: he froze the wages of unionized municipal workers, cut their healthcare and benefits, and slashed more than 1,500 city jobs.
Wait, wasn’t Rendell a Democrat?
Yep, he was a Democrat, even though he acted like a Republican’s dream mayor.
Hizzoner conducted “the most stunning turnaround in recent urban history,” the New York Times declared.
That was Mayor Rendell. That’s his legacy as our mayor. It’s an incredible legacy.
It’s a legacy that most elected officials never achieve.
It’s a legacy that should stay intact.
It’s a legacy that must not be amended.
It’s a legacy that only a fool would tamper with.
Pure and simple: Ed Rendell cannot become Philadelphia’s next mayor.
Rendell, who refused to comment for yesterday’s column by Inquirer political writer Thomas Fitzgerald, is allowing speculation that he may run for mayor to go viral without a response.
When you’re out of office and receive this kind of attention, it’s natural to kick back and see where the story takes you.
Of course, some might consider becoming a mayor after serving as a two-term governor as a step backwards.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a former governor became a mayor. Heck, there’s even one former governor who became a two-term mayor and now serves as governor again of the most populated state in the county.
But that’s not Ed Rendell’s fate.
There’s also been talk about whether Rendell would want to give up his newly achieved lifestyle as a businessman, political commentator, and man-about-town.
That’s a personal decision he would have to make. At 69, he has the energy of someone half his age. And healthwise, he’s leaner and meaner than he’s ever been. Rendell certainly has the stamina.
But for Rendell’s sake, I hope he continues on his new path of freedom.
As our mayor during the 1990s, he took us as far as he could. Ditto for his time as governor, where even pollsters curious on dragging Rendell back to Harrisburg have found empirical evidence that he would defeat incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in 2014.
Been there, done that, got the statue.
Ed Rendell should sit this one out for one reason alone: Philadelphia needs new blood at the helm.
We need someone who is not afraid to ruin their reputation.
We need someone who will do this full time and doesn’t have a part time gig talking sports, advising banks, or campaigning for an aspiring POTUS.
We need someone who is an outsider, who is not afraid to use a red pen and cut and slash like there’s no tomorrow.
We need our next mayor to be a turnaround artist who doesn’t need to feel the love in order to make the hard decisions that will balance our budget and still give us top notch public safety and high achieving schools.
Instead of raising taxes, buying school buildings and then reselling them, the next mayor has to solve the school crisis by cutting expenses – and that means standing up to the teacher’s union and demanding meaningful concessions – so that the taxpayers (what’s left of us) finally have an advocate.
The next mayor does not need to be a “visionary.” That term is too romanticized anyway. And besides, the visionaries are having their cities go bankrupt.
The next mayor must be a hardcore, faceless administrator who knows how to balance a budget and negotiate with a labor force for concessions. Do the math: Two thirds of the $4 billion municipal budget is public safety, health and benefits. Control the dollars in that area, and you’ve done your job.
So the next mayor must come in with a proven team that can achieve those financial goals. Changing Philadelphia is bigger than Ed Rendell or any one mayoral aspirant.
For that reason, the next mayor must be a businessperson, with a successful track record that can be presented and excruciatingly cross-examined during the 2015 mayoral election season.
After all, we won’t let Philadelphia become the next Detroit, will we?