Ed Rendell, back in Philly

 Ed Rendell sits in his new office deep inside the Bellevue on Philadelphia's South Broad Street and adds up the part-time law, banking and media gigs, the corporate boards he sits on, the supporters who've put him to work in the private sector since he left the state capital last winter.

"I may earn more this year than in the 16 years I was Governor of Pennsylvania and Mayor of Philadelphia," Rendell told me.

That would be a couple million, plus. But there are trade-offs: "I used to have 78,000 people working for me. Now I have 3. I was my own boss. Now I have a dozen bosses. And they expect me to show up when they want me."

Time to cash in? "I don't care about money," Rendell insists. "I have a home at the Shore. But to me a $400 suit is the same as a $3,000 suit. That I spend $75 for a tie, it drives me crazy." He earns a pile, he'll give it away, he says. Like Gerry Lenfest?

Rendell says his "favorite" board seat "is the one I don't get paid for," at Building America's Future, where he's joined ex-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg promoting a national highway-finance bank and other funding schemes.

Unpaid, but not disinterested: Robert Collins, the investment banker who advised Rendell on his attempt to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Citigroup and Spanish investors, has recruited Rendell to a part-time paid post recruiting governments to sell or rent their assets for his employer, Greenhill Capital.

Rendell has also landed TV gigs on Comcast Corp.'s NBC and MSNBC networks, and a continuation of his old Eagles postgame commentary on Comcast SportsNet. (Plus he has a sports column in the Daily News.) Comcast executive David L. Cohen, who shepherded its acquisition of network owner NBC Universal, is Rendell's old chief of staff and a longtime ally.

To get the NBC and MSNBC shows, Rendell had to meet with network honchos. They reviewed possible conflicts of interest: "I told them I left office with a lot of money and two Political Action Committees. I told them it's all right because I don't decide where the money's spent, under Pennsylvania law it's the chairman. Their lawyer asked, 'Who's the chairman?' I said 'David L. Cohen.' At the time David was spending a day and a half, two days a week at 30 Rock," NBC's headquarters, doing takeover prep. "Their lawyer said it would be all right."

Rendell praised Cohen as a model manager: "He works so hard, he knows more about your task than you do. And David does not suffer fools. But David is also good at sharing credit." So why isn't Cohen a CEO, instead of a perennial lieutenant? He could be, Rendell says.

Rendell is also back at Ballard Spahr, his old law firm, which did a brisk public-sector business while Rendell was a public servant; he's a fellow at the Brookings Institution; he's teaching a course at the University of Pennsylvania, his law school alma mater. And he's on corporate boards:

- Think Eco, a New York start-up, run by Jun Shimada and Mei Shibata, whose board includes Eric Aroesty, a Rendell campaign contributor. The firm markets a bulbous wall outlet that's supposed to automatically turn off your computer and other appliances when you're not home. Rendell is lobbying Exelon to use the devices in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Texas, which reward utilities that help customers use less power. "They told us 'Maybe'," he says. (Corrected)

- OwnEnergy: "My favorite (business) board. It's a community wind-energy company. The CEO, Jacob Susman, is one of my former Penn students. He's doing this from Brooklyn." No cash, but "I get stock options, in case it takes off."

- American Securities. Unlike some other buyout firms, "they buy companies and don't close them. Like (Ron Burkle's) Yucaipa Cos." When state-financed Tasty Baking Co. issued an urgent SOS seeking new investors last winter, Rendell says he called American boss Mike Fisch "and I asked, would they make an investment in Tastykake? He's got Wharton guys on his staff, he told them to look at it. They told him, 'It's a great product, but too small for us'." Georgia-based Flowers Foods agreed to buy Tasty last week.

- American Realty Capital. "You know Nick Schorsch? Used to be at (the former) Fidelity Bank? He runs American Realty, he's got eight real-estate investment trusts now, I'm on three of the boards. He's a great Philadelphia business story."

Rendell also does:

- Speeches for money. "I used to make five or six speeches a day," no charge. Now William Morris Agency is offering Rendell to business and political groups for five- and six-figure fees.

- A book. “I’ve written 60%. We’re clearing it up.”

What's the plan? “I don’t want to write 'The Challenges Facing America.' I wanted to write a memoir: 'My Life in Politics: 'You Can't Make This S--- Up.'"

At William Morris they told him, “'You’ve got to make this book about 'the Wussification of America.' I compromised. I made that the title of Chapter 1. I don’t know if it’ll sell. I’ve had a great time writing it."

"I want to write stories, like the day in Arlen Specter’s office, NOAA and EPA were arguing against dredging the Delaware River. Which we need, because all the good-paying jobs depend on it, right? And the lady from the EPA was talking about how the sturgeon are starting to come back into the river, so we can't dredge. I said, 'You know we dredge every year? And you know, they really like it?'” And then and there, he says, he composed a variant of an old Madonna song: "Like a sturgeon, kissed for the first time..."

He misses government? "This is challenging. Parts are fun. Is it as good as being mayor or governor? I’d say Michael Jordan is successful, he owns a ballteam. But if you paid him $250,000 to pay basketball again, would he do it? He’d go back."

Wasn't the Governor's chair less rewarding, than being Mayor of Philadelphia? "Only because mayor is a hands-on, visible job. There’s only one media market here, I could dominate it. But Pennsylvania is split among all these media markets. And nobody covers Harrisburg."

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