2009-12-31 / Local & State

Rendell To Be Active In Campaign For Governor

By Peter Jackson ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Ed Rendell is a smaller man than he used to be – 56 pounds smaller, to be exact – but he vows to remain a weighty political force in his final year as governor.

The Democrat whose annual clashes with legislative Republicans have pushed state budget negotiations into overtime for seven years in a row says he will press for a controversial tax on natural-gas drilling and another boost in education spending next year, even as major new financial pressures are expected to mount.

Will he renew his call for an income tax increase?

“We’ll see,’’ he said at a yearend news briefing this week.

He dismissed the notion that his clout at the Capitol will wane as the public’s attention gravitates toward the competitive Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primary races that will be decided May 18.

“I’m the governor of the fifthlargest state in the union and the governor wields a significant amount of power here,’’ he said. “The only way the governor doesn’t stay relevant is that the governor just gives up the ghost and doesn’t do his job. I intend to stay very relevant.’’

Rendell, who turns 66 on Jan. 5, also made clear that he expects to be involved in the gubernatorial campaign.

He said he plans to send a letter to all gubernatorial candidates, offering to provide background briefings on the intricacies of the state budget and any issues in which they are interested.

“I hope they’ll avail themselves of it,’’ he said. If they make factual errors about the administration on the campaign trail, “I will correct them, Democrats and Republicans alike.’’

At this point, the candidates are still struggling to get the voters’ attention.

State Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican whose ongoing legislative corruption probe has kept his name in the news, appears to be the only candidate with any substantial name recognition.

A Quinnipiac University poll taken earlier this month showed that while 43 percent of Pennsylvania voters held favorable opinions of Corbett, 50 percent said they didn’t know enough to form an opinion.

More than 70 percent said they lacked enough information to form opinions about the other candidates named in the poll – Republican Jim Gerlach and Democrats Chris Doherty, Joe Hoeffel, Tom Knox, Dan Onorato and Jack Wagner.

That is likely to change early in the new year, as the candidates begin spending some of the millions of dollars they have raised so far and news coverage of the campaigns gathers steam.

Rendell held open the possibility that he might endorse a Democratic candidate before the primary.

“As long as there’s a wide field, probably not,’’ he said. “As the campaign goes on, I may try to see if we can put together a winning team and a winning ticket, but that remains to be seen.’’

The governor acknowledged he has close relationships with Onorato, the Allegheny County executive; Hoeffel, a former congressman from the Philadelphia suburbs; Doherty, the mayor of Scranton; and Knox, a wealthy Philadelphia businessman who was one of the first people to endorse Rendell for mayor in the 1990s.

What about the other candidate, a reporter asked.

“Who’s the other candidate?’’ Rendell asked.

Jack Wagner, somebody answered.

“Oh,’’ said the governor. “Jack’s a good public servant.’’

Wagner, the state auditor general whose audits have often been critical of the Rendell administration, shrugged off the omission.

“I’m not offended by that,’’ said Wagner, a former state senator from Pittsburgh. “I’m an independent guy. That’s what I was elected to be – an independent government watchdog.’’

The question about Rendell’s weight loss – the result of a diet he began in June, when he weighed 265 pounds – came up toward the end of the briefing. He started the diet as a distraction from the annual budget wars, but is still on it two months after this year’s deal was struck.

“My goal is to lose another eight or nine pounds,’’ he said. “I want to, at least for a day, see a ‘1’ ... at the beginning of the scale.’’

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