Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell "losing it" is nothing new. He has a legendary short fuse, going back to his days as district attorney and later mayor of Philadelphia. Rendell put the bully in bully pulpit.
I'm not sure if this qualifies as a citizen's arrest. I'd like to issue a citation to Gov. Edward G. Rendell. The charge? Conduct unbecoming a governor.
If you haven't heard by now, Gov. Rendell has teed off in recent days against a citizen activist and a state senator, not to mention officials at one of the most prestigious think tanks in the state.
Rendell "losing it" is nothing new. He has a legendary short fuse, going back to his days as district attorney and later mayor of Philadelphia. Rendell put the bully in bully pulpit. A couple of years ago, he snatched the tape recorder from a reporter who was asking tough questions, stuck it in his pocket and walked away. He's also called the Pennsylvania Cable Network to chew out program executives when panelists have criticized him on "Journalists Roundtable."
The second-term Democratic governor has issues. There's a rumor going around that Jack Nicholson's role in "Anger Management" was based on Ed Rendell. But it's another movie, "The Silence of the Lambs," that came to the forefront this week when Rendell compared citizen activist Eric Epstein to Hannibal Lechter.
Rendell also called the staff of the Commonwealth Foundation a bunch of "imbeciles."
And the governor also called Republican state Sen. Mike Folmer "certifiable." (Folmer ousted longtime Rendell political ally David "Chip" Brightbill from the state Senate last year, but Rendell went too far in questioning the mental stability of the popular reformer, known to his constituents as "Citizen Mike.")
Maybe the governor has been watching too many movies or the realization that his second term is turning into a disaster is setting in, but Rendell needs to grow a thicker skin. That might be asking a lot of a 62-year old career politician, but criticism comes with the territory.
And while the governor may not like what reporters, columnists, commentators and bloggers say about him, he's got to avoid personal attacks on his critics.
I've had my differences with Rendell in the past couple of years on various issues, but I've never felt the need to call him names. That's the least Rendell should do for his fellow citizens. The governor of one of the largest states does not have the right to make fun of any of his constituents, regardless of what they say about him.
Eric Epstein has a right to criticize Rendell. Epstein doesn't collect a salary from taxpayers. You and I have that same right. We pay Gov. Rendell's salary. He works for us. We can criticize him whenever we want. That's our right as citizens in a Democracy. Rendell doesn't have the privilege of ugly name-calling or questioning their motives of any Pennsylvania citizen.
Rendell can respond to criticism about his policies, but spewing venom at his critics is out of bounds. If the governor doesn't want to be criticized, he is welcome to step down and take a job in the private sector. I'm sure he can find a well-paid position with the many corporate benefactors he has helped with taxpayer money over the past four years, including Comcast or any of the casinos that he brought to Pennsylvania.
Epstein, who is coordinator of the grassroots citizens group Rock the Capitol, was quoted in The Philadelphia Inquirer as saying Rendell "believes he has a mandate to pillage, but he won 61 percent of the vote against an empty suit last year and he didn't have a clear agenda until June 30."
A furious Rendell called the reporter who write the story and spewed: "Eric Epstein is about as mentally stable as that guy who ate all those people."
Epstein told the Lancaster New Era he isn't sure to whom the governor compared him. "Hopefully it's Hannibal. Some people think it's Idi Amin" — the late diabolical Ugandan president — "or Jeffrey Dahmer," Epstein laughed. "I've been asked if I deserve an apology. My answer is no. I wasn't the guy who went into a cave and held 24,000 families hostage," said Epstein, referring to the government shutdown that resulted in the furloughs of more than 23,500 "non-critical" state workers. "I'm hoping we can get past the name-calling and behave like adults. Apparently the governor is experiencing an emotional meltdown," he continued. "A lot of us have interesting thoughts. That doesn't mean we're obligated to share them with the public. What's amazing about this is that he went out of his way to call a reporter to offer his psychiatric evaluation."
Rendell's beef with the Commonwealth Foundation and Sen. Folmer stems from the fact that they questioned Rendell's budget numbers after the governor announced an agreement on the nine-day-old dispute over the 2007-08 state budget.
Rendell, in an interview with The Patriot-News on Wednesday, addressed the Commonwealth folks first: "What these imbeciles don't understand is that most cost drivers in a budget, you don't control."
The New Era contacted the group's policy director, Nate Benefield, and asked if he'd seen Rendell's remarks in the newspaper. "Well, no, I'm too much of an imbecile to read," he said. "I guess it's better to be called stupid than to be called crazy. I think we got the better end of that deal."
Folmer, who represents the 48th Senate district, drew Rendell's wrath by suggesting the state's spending growth could reach 6 percent by the time lawmakers are finished drafting it. "He's certifiable," Rendell told the Harrisburg paper, adding that the 6 percent estimate is "just not rational."
In an interview with the Lancaster newspaper, Folmer said, "I've been called worse. Ask my wife." He went on to chide Rendell. "There's a huge myth out there that because he's governor he should always get his way. He forgets the system of government we have," Folmer said."He's not king. He's not a dictator. He's not commissar. He's a governor in a representative republic form of government," Folmer told the newspaper.
A Rendell spokesperson said the governor has no intention of apologizing to anyone over his recent remarks. "He did not intend to offend anybody," spokesman Chuck Ardo said. "He was responding passionately to a series of questions, and he is well known both in Harrisburg throughout the commonwealth and throughout the country for speaking his mind."
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas