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For Now, He's Bidding 'Adieu'; Still, Don't Count This Guy Out

January 20, 2011 By:
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Former Gov. Ed Rendell

Ed Rendell may now be a former governor and a private citizen once again -- Republican Gov. Tom Corbett took the oath of office Tuesday morning -- but don't expect the 67-year-old to be sitting around idly.

In fact, the two-term governor and former Philadelphia mayor -- who admittedly has never spent much time in synagogue, but has expressed pride in his heritage -- hinted that he may even explore his Judaism a little more, if he has the time, that is.

"It's interesting, my brother, who is a few years older, has become religious and subjected himself to religious training at an older age," the second Jewish governor in state history said, referring to Robert Rendell, a Texas lawyer.

"He's done it. If I get the opportunity, I will. In the private sector, I've got a lot of ground to make up, and I fear that I won't have the time," Rendell said in a phone interview with the Jewish Exponent, one of many media outlets he has reached out to in recent weeks.

Rendell's wife, federal judge Marjorie "Midge" Rendell is Catholic, and his son, lawyer Jesse Rendell, was not brought up as a Jew. He has long been close to Rabbi Solomon Isaacson of Congregation Beth Solomon Kollel and Community Center.

More likely, he said, he would lend his name and time to certain favored Jewish causes, pointing out that as governor, that he'd helped raise funds for the new-and-improved National Museum of American Jewish History.

Rendell -- who has said that he won't seek public office again -- forcefully defended his two-term gubernatorial record that featured some major victories, as well as bruising budget and policy battles.

He cited his push for education funding -- growing the state's investment by $1.5 billion, bringing the total to nearly $6 billion -- as his most lasting achievement and the one which has had the most impact on all constituencies, including the Jewish community.

Regarding the Jewish communal agenda, Rendell said that he was proud to sign into law a bill requiring state pension funds to divest holdings from firms doing business in Iran or Sudan.

And he called it a major accomplishment that, despite a fiscal crisis, he and lawmakers were able to maintain $60 million in funding for the Education Improvement Tax Credit, which benefits all types of private schools, including Jewish day schools.

Though he has historically enjoyed overwhelming support within the Jewish community, he's had his critics as well, particularly stretching back to his two terms as mayor of Philadelphia.

In 1997, he clashed with Jewish leaders over his decision to invite Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to the city. By then, Farrakhan had made a number of disparaging remarks about Jews, including a reference to Judaism as a "gutter religion."

Stood by His Decisions 
"My obligation as mayor, I thought, preceded my obligation as a Jew, though I don't take my obligations as a Jew lightly," Rendell said, explaining that Farrakhan helped smooth over racial tension that had simmered in the Grays Ferry section of the city.

He added that "if the Muslim community had marched through Grays Ferry, we would have had a full-blown race riot and had several deaths, I'm almost certain."

Rendell also stood by his decision in 2007 to attend a fundraiser sponsored by the Council on Islamic-American Relations, a controversial Muslim group -- the same event keynoted by U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak that caused much flak during his campaigns, including Sestak's most recent failed run for senator.

The congressman's appearance there became an oft-discussed issue in his race for the Senate. Two years after that dinner, the FBI, which used to cooperate with CAIR in its effort to better understand concerns in the Muslim community, cut ties to the group, citing unresolved questions over CAIR's connections to Hamas.

"I don't necessarily have a litmus test of 20 things you have to agree with me on before I listen to your concerns," said Rendell. "Obviously, I don't agree with everything that CAIR has done, but I still believe I have an obligation to engage them."

His philosophy, essentially, is to talk to almost everybody.

"Does that mean I would extend it to Nazis?" he asked rhetorically. "No, obviously there is a line to be drawn."

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