Rendell envisioned a new era of political activism in Pennsylvania with the advent of the Corbett administration and Republican control in Harrisburg.
He conjured up the King-era imagery of busloads of protesters converging on the Capitol to protest budget cuts, particularly in public education.
"It is unrealistic" he said, to expect new education spending with the state facing a deficit that could rise to $5 billion.
"The political winds in Pennsylvania have changed."
But citizen activists in the tradition of Dr. King will have to form "a human tsunami" to keep the Corbett administration from reversing some $4.3 billion a year in public-education spending Rendell says he instituted over the past eight years.
"When we get on the buses as Dr. King would have," Rendell said, "I'll be with you. I will be on the buses with you; I'll be shouting with you."
I can only imagine what a thrill it will be for Corbett to hear Rendell's raspy voice amplified through a bullhorn stoking the flames of discontent.
While he contemplates that, Corbett may be trying to work his way out of the handcuffs Rendell has clamped on him. His last-minute executive order gave the weight of law to a set of initiatives Rendell instituted in 2004 to increase participation by minority- and female-owned business in state contracts.
He signed the amended protocol into law yesterday, "as my last act by executive order," Rendell told the luncheon crowd.
The new policy requires agency heads under state-government jurisdiction to adopt criteria that will ensure that all competitive contract opportunities they issue seek to maximize participation by businesses owned by minorities and women.
It requires all state departments to solicit proposals from certified minority- and female-owned firms listed on a Department of General Services website and to establish "an expedited certification process for minority- and women-owned businesses" that have already been certified by other governments.
The state was awarding $3.8 billion in contracts the year he took office, Rendell said.
"Only $25 [million] of that went to MBEs and WBEs," Rendell said. "I pledged to increase that to 10 percent. We increased it to 14 percent, or about $236 million." He did it with nothing more than a set of goals and good intentions, to hear Rendell tell it. But he's not counting on goodwill or goals from the new administration.
"They will have to rescind the executive order to change this," Rendell told the crowd. "The burden falls to us."
State Sen. Vincent Hughes echoed Rendell's rally cry.
"We are prepared to go to Harrisburg to state our case and claim the justice that is so rightly ours," Hughes said. "That is where the next fight is going to be."
With Rendell out and Republicans in, Hughes said, "the old relationships we used to have in Harrisburg will be gone."
If Rendell and Hughes are reading the right tea leaves, the new relationship will be adversarial. The battles won't be fought only on the floor of the General Assembly, where Republicans rule but also in the streets outside the Capitol.
When the citizens assemble and the buses roll, Ed Rendell will be with them. He will be fighting for their children's education for economic security and for whatever is left of his legacy.