PhillyDeals: Rendell busy but missing his old digs

Ed Rendell as governor in 2009, at a news conference on solar energy. Since leaving office, he's begun a dozen or more gigs in law, banking, and media, and on business boards.
Ed Rendell as governor in 2009, at a news conference on solar energy. Since leaving office, he's begun a dozen or more gigs in law, banking, and media, and on business boards.
Posted: April 17, 2011

"I may earn more this year than in the 16 years I was governor of Pennsylvania and mayor of Philadelphia," says Ed Rendell, smiling, in his new office deep in the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue on South Broad Street.

Rendell has collected at least a dozen part-time law, banking, business-board, and media gigs - "consistent with what I've done in public life," he says - since stepping down as governor in January.

What's the trade-off? "I used to have 78,000 people working for me. Now I have three," Rendell responds. "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 and collect a few million? "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."

He appears, unpaid, for Building America's Future, joining ex-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to promote a national highway finance bank and other public-funding schemes.

Robert Collins, the investment banker who advised Rendell on his attempt to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors, has recruited Rendell to help advise, part time, government asset sales for Greenhill & Co. Inc.

Rendell has also landed TV gigs on Comcast Corp.'s NBC and MSNBC networks, plus his old Eagles postgame commentary on Comcast SportsNet. He also does a sports column in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Network honchos asked about conflicts of interest.

"I told them I left office with a lot of money and two political action committees," Rendell said. "I told them it's all right because I don't decide where the money is spent. Under Pennsylvania law, it's the chairman [who decides]. 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 NBC headquarters, as Comcast prepared to buy the networks. "Their lawyer said it would be all right."

Rendell praised Cohen, once his mayoral chief of staff: "He works so hard, he knows more about your task than you do." So why is Cohen always a lieutenant, not a boss? He could run Comcast, Rendell says.

Rendell has a desk again at Ballard Spahr L.L.P., his old law firm, which did a brisk public-sector business while he was in office. He's an unpaid fellow at the Brookings Institution. He's teaching a course at the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater. And he's on corporate boards, among them:

ThinkEco, a Pittsburgh start-up run by Eric Aroesty, a Rendell campaign contributor. Its bulbous wall outlet turns down computers when you are out. Rendell is lobbying Exelon to use the devices in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Texas. "They told us 'maybe,' " Rendell says.

OwnEnergy: "My favorite board," Rendell says. "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," Rendell adds.

American Securities, a corporate-buyout investor. When state-financed Tasty Baking Co. needed money, Rendell asked American boss Mike Fisch. "He's got Wharton guys on his staff," Rendell explained. "They told him, 'It's a great product, but too small for us.' "

American Realty Capital: "You know Nick Schorsch?" Rendell asks. "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 has talked to energy investor Element Partners, of Radnor, where his ex-environmental chief, Kathleen McGinty, became a partner, and to ex-state procurement officer-turned-Washington "sourcing" adviser David Yarkin, about consulting. William Morris Agency is trying to book Rendell as a paid speaker.

And Rendell is writing a book, but no publisher yet. "I don't want to write 'The Challenges Facing America,' " Rendell says. "I wanted to write a memoir: 'My Life in Politics: You Can't Make This S--- Up.' " That's how Rendell says it: Ess, dash, dash, dash.

"At William Morris they said, 'You've got to make this book about the Wussification of America. I compromised. I made that the title of Chapter One.

"I want to write stories, like the day in [then-U.S. Sen.] Arlen Specter's office, NOAA and EPA, we're 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' " without killing sturgeon? Then Rendell altered an old Madonna song: "Like a sturgeon, kissed for the very first time . . ."

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


Contact columnist Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or JoeD@phillynews.com.

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