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In Defense of Ed Rendell: Lesley Stahl Knew Just What She Was Doing

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So much hoopla in the Sixty Minutes temper department! Have you followed it? On January 9th, Lesley Stahl interviewed the soon to be Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania (my home state) about the relationship between gambling and addiction. Her message was clear: Casinos promote addiction. Rendell has supported casinos in Pennsylvania. But, it's complicated. Please read on...

Stills and little smidgeons of Rendell's furious responses to Stahl have been all over the Web and Twitter and in our statewide press. In these Rendell is pictured as if he is a growling, about to drool mad man, itching to throw something, strike or pounce on the diminutive Stahl, and then (hopefully) pull of his mike and storm off of the set so that she can once again breathe.

But, watching the show, it is clear that what was selected to promo this show (and I am sure the audience was vast) did not reflect the interview itself. Stahl, a brilliant, savvy reporter and interviewer, knew the story she wanted. She also knew the reaction she wanted from Ed Rendell and pushed for it -- hard! (For the record, for those of you who did not see this interview, Rendell stayed seated throughout, and threw nothing.)

Stahl played lip service to credible testimony opposing her position from a noted Harvard professor and leading researcher in the field. Rendell kept trying to build on this perspective, backed by research: Sadly those who are addicted will find other gambling outlets and other cities than the ones in Pennsylvania. He tried to explain how cash strapped our cities and states are, how desperate. Because he must want to leave office without bashing Republicans, he had to have bitten his tongue hard, not telling Stahl and her audience that Republican priorities do not take into account the needs of the poor or struggling middle class, and that things are only going to get worse for cities in the near future, and predictably beyond.

Most Pennsylvanians know well that Rendell wished he had options other than casinos to revitalize decayed neighborhoods and produce jobs. His back is to the wall and he cares. Yes, understandably his has been a very controversial stance, opposed by neighborhood associations, clergy, groups appealing to addicts to change their behaviors, and more. That said, it is happening, and Philadelphia (my home town) recently opened its first casino. A second casino planned for Philly fell through after Steve Wynn withdrew his support (for reasons that have not been made pubic) and is apparently going to another city in Pennsylvania. This loss for Philadelphia that despaired our Mayor Michael Nutter and many others desperate for funds for our struggling city has opponents of casinos ecstatic.

Ed Rendell, one of a kind, is known for his quick temper, quick apologies, and impulsive decisions. He was able to afford his first home because, the scene of a horrific murder, he bought it blood splattered and cheap. When he was chief of homicide in Philly's DA's office under Arlen Specter, his furniture throwing was legendary. When staff has let him down, his tirades have been spectacles. Once he famously stepped on the toe of opposing counsel, and he has bruised his fists from banging walls. But he always says he is sorry when his temper and impulsive decisions hurts others, and he means it.

I have known Ed since his Villanova law school days (he did his undergrad work at the U of P); he courted his wife, U.S. Circuit Judge Marjorie O. Rendell (Midge to her many friends and admirers) in my home; and I was pregnant with my youngest child, as I danced at Midge and Ed's wedding.

In 1991 Ed Rendell became mayor of Philadelphia in very dark days. With Midge's support he married our troubled, failing city and brought her back to as much life as he could. Without Midge's leadership our thriving Avenue of the Arts never could have happened.

Like Ed or not, how refreshing to see a politician not capable of speaking with forked tongue. And yes, often putting his foot in his mouth, with well remembered quotes such as those about Gore and Obama. Plus his years of office have been honest ones. I forgot how many times the governor has mortgaged his home to run for office. Now Ed is about to be represented by the William Morris Agency, and many will delight in a first hand experience with a politician never ruled by focus groups or the desperation of being re-elected -- and even the opportunity to have a front row seat to a well meaning tirade.

I was quoted by my former editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, a true Renaissance man and scholar, John Timpane, about Ed's famous temper before I saw the entire Sixty Minutes piece: "You may not like Ed's style or appreciate how he is wired. But he really cares, especially about those who suffer. If anyone questions that he could lead them astray, he's going to blow. And he means nothing by it. That's just Ed."

Well, that's just what Lesley Stahl did: She accused him of harming the very people he has tried to help throughout his professional life. Knowing the story she was determined to get, she cornered him, refusing to hear or respond to his reasoning, egging him on until he blew. In true Ed style, he finally, in frustration, used the words, "simpletons" and "idiots," to describe reporter and staff.

Though I am not a betting woman, and have not even visited Philly's casino, I bet Ed has called Lesley Stahl to apologize, and that this whole story will prove terrific for ratings -- both Lesley Stahl's and Ed Rendell's!

Author's Note: As predicted, Ed Rendell is just fine: He is returning to his old Philadelphia law firm, Ballard Spahr, and, only a few days after MSNBC said goodbye to Keith Olbermann, NBC News says it has hired Rendell as a political analyst. Also it has been reported that Ed did apologize to Stahl, but not her staff.