Rendell angrily defends state's casinos to '60 Minutes'
This Sunday, on CBS's "60 Minutes," an event will occur that will shock the heck out of everyone in America.
Except those who live around here.
Ed Rendell's going to blow up at a reporter.
The outburst is recorded and ready to roll. The subject is casinos. Lesley Stahl, longtime CBS reporter, one of the smarter people in the business, is pressing Mr. Rendell about casinos and their effect on addictive gamblers. He takes it less than well.
"People are losing money for the state to get its revenue," Ms. Stahl says. "They're losing money."
The governor replies, beginning to sputter: "Let me answer this. You ... you've ... I've always ... I've known, uh, for two or three decades, you're a very smart person."
"But not now," Ms. Stahl says.
"But you're not getting it," Mr. Rendell says.
"I'm dumb now," Ms. Stahl says.
"You're not getting it," Mr. Rendell says, clearly flustered. "Those people would lose that money anyway. Don't you understand? You guys don't get that. You're simpletons. You're idiots if you don't get that."
By the end, he is grimacing and waving his hands.
It's yet another volcanic media moment for the soon-to-be-ex-governor, yet another unguarded Rendell rant. It follows hot on the heels of his still-glowing declaration, after a blizzard postponed an Eagles game, that the United States had become "a nation of wusses."
Buzz Bissinger, whose book "A Prayer for the City" chronicled much Rendell rage, said Friday, "Ed is a huger-than-life personality, wildly funny, wildly passionate, with a terrible temper. What's different about this is that he lost it on the most-watched news program in the country. ...
"It's been quite a two weeks, I'll say that. Another round of Ed Rendell stories all over the country. This is what makes Ed Rendell one of the most remarkable politicians in the country."
The blowup blew up all over the Web Friday, especially on news and politics sites. [See PG Early Returns item here.] On Twitter, many a tweet concerned Mr. Rendell and his temper.
Christine Guerrini, a Philadelphia tweeter, tweeted: "1st the 'wusses' comment, now Rendell lashes out on 60 mins. ... how do u think his reps are going to handle this?"
Robert Edwards of Levittown tweeted: "Just saw the clip of Gov. Rendell on 60 minutes about gambling. ... He looks like a lunatic."
Indecision Forever, the Comedy Central TV channel's blog site, colored Mr. Rendell's grimacing face Incredible Hulk green and added this headline: "Gov. Ed Rendell Goaded Into Turning Into Hulk on National Television."
Mr. Rendell's critics were quick to portray the outburst as further evidence of his ickiness. Dan Hajdo, spokesman for Casino-Free Philadelphia, watched the promo clip for "60 Minutes" and said that "to come on national TV and say that in such a callous way is a national disgrace."
Steve Miskin, spokesman for the state House Republicans in Harrisburg, said, "How can anybody take him seriously?"
Then Mr. Miskin checked his Droid for the "Rendell exit count" -- which he reported to be 10 days, 23 hours, and 2 minutes, the time remaining until Mr. Rendell leaves office Jan. 18. "He's nothing but an entertainer auditioning for his next gig," Mr. Miskin said. "That's all he's been doing, from 'wussification' to yesterday on gambling."
As for Mr. Rendell's temper: He earned a rep soon after Villanova Law School, when he went to work for the Philadelphia district attorney. He was a furniture-thrower, an umbrella-mangler, a puncher of walls. In an excess of high spirits, he once stepped on a defense lawyer's foot in court.
"I know Ed well," said SaraKay Smullens, a family therapist and longtime friend of Mr. Rendell and his wife, U.S. Circuit Judge Marjorie O. Rendell. "You may not like his style, you may not appreciate how he's 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."
Few people know his temper better than former his press secretary, Chuck Ardo, who said that in his nine years with Mr. Rendell, he was "fired too many times to count."
The first time was in 2002, soon after Mr. Ardo began his job as then-candidate Mr. Rendell's Western Pennsylvania press secretary.
Mr. Ardo, who resigned of his own accord in 2009 and now works for Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson, said his first altercation with Mr. Rendell was on a campaign bus in Pittsburgh, when the candidate arrived to find a half-dozen reporters in the seats.
Mr. Ardo recalled Mr. Rendell saying, "Who are they and what are they doing here?" To which Mr. Ardo said he replied: "They are reporters. They are going to be with us for four days."
Minutes later, Mr. Rendell asked Mr. Ardo to have his resignation letter on his desk. Of course, Mr. Rendell had no desk at that point -- but that was beside the point.
"His volatility is very short-lived," Mr. Ardo said, adding that it was an honor to work for Mr. Rendell and that he looks back on those years fondly.
Joseph James, a psychologist in Bethesda, Md., specializing in anger management, said he sees the pattern of anger storm/sudden clearing quite a bit.
"Sometimes it's coming from a family where anger is in the culture, and it's normal to you for people to get upset and then everything's all right," he said. "Sometimes you're not aware of your effect on others. And sometimes it's narcissism.
"Anger," he added, "is a response to threat, and that's why you see many angry people in positions of enormous pressure."
Mr. Ardo, told of Mr. Rendell's latest outburst, remarked, "He's been known to shoot from the lip before, and I would expect he will shoot from the lip until the lip has no more ammunition left."
As a professional outburster, Mr. Rendell has also become a professional apologizer, frequently taking back the moments of excess that have landed him in the soup through the years. At a news conference Monday, his remarks about his relations with reporters might well stand for his relations with all around him.
"It's actually been a pleasure dealing with the press," he said. "I get angry with them at times, but our press does a very good job of keeping people informed. As irritated as I get at times, I always remind myself that this is the way that democracy was intended to work."
First Published January 8, 2011 12:00 am