Rendell on wusses, Hillary and a donkey named Swifty

Holly Kinser is up against her old firm to lobby for the city’s bid to retain a license. FILE PHOTO
Holly Kinser is up against her old firm to lobby for the city’s bid to retain a license. FILE PHOTO
Posted: May 11, 2012

Former Gov.Ed Rendell on June 5 will release an autobiography wrapped in a political manifesto about what he calls the “Wussification of America.”

The book, A Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great, is classic Rendell. He marvels at his own clever political instincts, complains about the attention of the media and waxes wonkish on issues he holds dear, such as investing in the nation’s infrastructure of roads and bridges.

Some highlights:

No Rendell book would be complete without a few bawdy bits. He introduces us to “Swifty,” a donkey donated by a union to the Democratic Party when Rendell was national chairman in 2000.

Rendell first sees Swifty as “noble” and “ruggedly handsome” until he spots a big problem. Swifty, Rendell explains, was so often “randy” that he looked like a “five-legged donkey.”

What’s a DNC chairman to do? Rendell climbed into Swifty’s pen to try to soothe the beast.

“My words and constant petting would surely calm Swifty’s ardor,” Rendell hoped. “But no, it seemed to have the reverse effect, and although it didn’t seem possible, the problem was soon scraping the bottom of the pen.”

A custom-made blanket, with the DNC logo, couldn’t cover Swifty’s partisan enthusiasm.

In a very wussie-like move, Rendell admits he could not anger the union by firing Swifty so he exiled the donkey to fringes of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles that year.

Rendell seems positively Swifty-like in his desire that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton run for president in 2016, a campaign she has said she does not want to wage. He believes Clinton is “bone-tired” from her job but some rest and reflection could change her mind.

“I’m already campaigning to persuade her to do so,” Rendell writes. “I have told her that I would be her campaign manager and not even take a salary, that’s how important it is for her to run.”

Rendell said he pointed out to Clinton that she will be his age in 2016, after she told him he looked like he had the stamina to run for president.

“Run, Hillary, run,” he added. “This country is so screwed up it needs a brilliant, charismatic, non-wuss lawyer to turn it around.”

Rendell has a more mixed view of President Obama, maybe because he so strongly backed Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary races.

The first line of the chapter on Obama praises him as the “best communicator in history” while saying he has been “badly outcommunicated as president.”

Rendell calls “severely flawed” the way Obama pushed two key initiatives: the economic-stimulus program and the Affordable Care Act, a/k/a Obamacare. In both cases, Rendell complains, Obama gave Congress too much input in drafting the legislation and then failed to use the “bully pulpit” of the White House to explain the policies to the public.

Rendell later writes in his conclusion that he hopes Obama, if he wins a second term this year, “will be free from the burden of seeking office again [term-limited] and will be as consistently a bold and courageous risk taker as he was in refusing to accept defeat on health care.”

Rendell also takes a playful shot at an old friend, Lew Katz, one of the new owners of the Daily News, Inquirer and philly.com.

He recounts how Katz, before taking the stage with President Bill Clinton for a New York City fundraiser, asked Clinton to whisper something in his ear while being introduced to the audience. Katz didn’t care what Clinton said, Rendell wrote, but just wanted to nod and look as if he were giving the president some advice.

“Clinton shook his head with a mixture of wonder and disgust,” Rendell writes. “When the time came, the president leaned over and whispered into Lew’s ear: ‘Katz, you’re a real putz.’ Lew, always unflappable, kept a straight face and nodded yes several times.”

A friendly standoff

The struggle to keep a second casino license in Philadelphia is pitting Mayor Nutter and his administration against the city’s longtime lobbyist on state issues, S.R. Wojdak & Associates.

And now one of the firm’s best-known players is going to bat for Nutter against her old pals.

Nutter, who wants the jobs and taxes a second casino would bring, opposes legislation approved by the state House last week and now being considered by the state Senate that would open up bidding statewide for the license now reserved for Philly.

Wojdak, which represents the city’s lone casino, SugarHouse, is lobbying legislators to open up the bidding in hopes that the second license will go elsewhere.

Nutter said he and his staff have lobbied legislators directly on gaming issues, leaving Wojdak out of the picture.

“We’re for keeping the license here in Philadelphia,” Nutter said. “And we’re going to fight with whomever we have to fight with to make sure we’re successful.”

Holly Kinser, a longtime lobbyist at Wojdak for the city, started her own firm last month. Wojdak subcontracts some of the city business to Kinser, who yesterday said she will now push the city’s concerns about gaming.

That pits Kinser against her colleagues at Wojdak.

“It’s healthy competition, so to speak,” Kinser explained.

Wojdak spokesman Kevin Feeley said the firm has represented the city for two decades and SugarHouse for seven years. The firm always had an agreement with the city, Feeley said, to represent it on some but not all issues to avoid conflicts of interest.

Wojdak is up for a one-year renewal of its $120,000 contract to lobby for the city on July 1.

Quotable:

“People wanted to elect the City Commissioners. So if that’s what the people want, that’s what I’m for.” — City Commission Chairwoman Stephanie Singer, explaining on WHYY’s “Radio Times” on Tuesday why she changed her position that commissioners should be appointed and not elected.

Singer, who won her post last year, said she reached that decision after seeing an internal campaign poll. She declined to let us review that poll this week. n

Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or email him at brennac@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN and read his blog, PhillyClout.com.

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