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A Prayer for the City
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on December 8, 2014
Ed Rendell allowed a writer, Buzz Bissinger, to shadow him during his first term as Mayor of Philadelphia. This book is the result of what Buzz saw during those four years. It provides an extremely candid insight into what Ed Rendell is like as a person while dramatically presenting the difficulties facing a large city Mayor.

"A Prayer for the City" also follows the lives of four Philadelphians during this same period. This makes for interesting contrasts that shows how the story of Philadelphia during this era affected people differently. Although, I wonder why, after several years of following a Mayor around, the book did not concentrate more on the Mayor.

The book shows Ed Rendell, the person, flaws and strengths. Ed Rendell is presented as a strongly driven man who works hard, knows his goals, and does his best to reach those goals. This is seen in contract negotiations where he know what he wanted entering, he knew contingencies, and he knew how to reach his goals, which included allowing others to gain credit and his opposition to come to agreement by being able to walk away from the negotiating table with the ability to claim victory, or else the agreements would never have been reached. Agree or disagree with the result, this ability to engage in complex and strategic thinking and reacting allows readers to conclude that Ed Rendell is a very skilled and driven leader.

Ed Rendell is seen as a hard worker, but as one who doesn't react well to overexertion. He is conflicted by the expectations that the Mayor must go to the hospital of any wounded police officer, knowing that a private family time can be seen as being inappropriately disturbed by a politician and the media. Yet, as Ed Rendell lost his father when he was 14, he related well to the children of slain and wounded officers. When the pressure and lack of rest got to be too much, Ed Rendell can scream, throw things, and even do bodily harm, such as digging his heel into another or grabbing a photographer enough to bruise her arm.

Ed Rendell also knows the key to victory is to build coalitions with necessary partners. In order to get legislation through City Council, he did his best to stroke the ego and give credit, even when it was not due to him, to City Council John Street. Of course, we wonder what John Street thinks when he reads some of the negative sentiments expressed by Rendell in the book that were kept from him at this time.

The successes of Rendell's first term are presented. A structural deficit that threatened to bankrupt the city was eliminated. Job losses reversed and small job gains began. The man Al Gore dubbed "American's Mayor" went on and has become our Governor. Readers will see that dealing with the complexities of being a Mayor should serve well as a prelude to being Governor. One point clear from this book is that Ed Rendell means to be a good leader, for as he said himself, "if I walk out of here voted out, I walk with my head held high because I've done the right thing.
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VINE VOICEon July 11, 2010
" . . . he understood exactly what a city was about -- sounds and sights and smells, all the different senses, held together by the spontaneity of choreography, each day, each hour, each minute different from the previous one."

Oh, the city, the city! I am an urban person. I lived in the suburbs for years and it was hell. You couldn't walk anywhere because there were no sidewalks. There was too much "new". There was too much alike. Your neighbors were just like you. When I drove into the city, the moment I saw the skyline, the outline of the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Center reaching for the clouds, my heart would lift and I would begin to feel alive again. If I have any regret about moving back, it's that I waited too long to do so.

Ed Rendell loves Philadelphia. The two-term mayor took a dying city and tried desperately to resuscitate it. And Bissinger was there. In an extraordinary act of transparency, the Rendell administration gave the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist nearly unfettered access to the mayor and his staff. He was present at meetings public and private, he read documents and correspondence, he interviewed everyone. Mingled with the story of City Hall are the stories of four city residents: a shipyard worker, a grandmother raising her children's children and their children, a policy wonk and a "true believer" prosecutor. They, too, all love the city, and each is subjected to its traumas. Prosecutor McGovern and policy analyst Morrison had options. They could leave for the suburbs, not worry about crime in their neighborhoods or bad schools for their kids. Unemployed welders and inner city moms don't have the same options, and sometimes your love of place makes you want to stay. After all, "there may be lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real."

When he was sworn in, Rendell had a fight on his hands. The city was losing population, jobs, and industry. Nobody cared. Not the feds. Not the state. He had to make them care. There is the story of the Navy Shipyard, one of the biggest employers in the city for, literally, centuries. For years, it was threatened with being shut down, and, finally, the shutdown came. But a German shipbuilder had a vision, a vision to take the shipyard and turn it into a place that served the burgeoning cruise ship industry. Rendell fought to make that happen. He worked on financing and tax incentives. He went to the State House and he went to the White House. He called in favors and friends. Even when the Governor killed the deal, insulting and humiliating the potential buyer until he said "to hell with you", Rendell kept trying. This is one roller-coaster of a chapter!

This is no whitewash of Rendell. Bissinger doesn't shirk from describing the mayor's temper tantrums, his inappropriate behavior towards women reporters, his failures to connect with the African-American community, his egotism. But the picture we have of Rendell as his first term draws to a close is that of a lover who takes his beloved to shows and buys her pretty things, but knows that that, like flowers on an expressway berm, is merely window dressing. It is her heart and soul that matter most, and he will do anything to save her.

This page-turner of a book will uplift you, and it will break your heart.
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on April 28, 2017
This is one of the best descriptors I've read of the plight of the Cities from the fifties to the present times. It is written so well that you think you were there in the meeting room with those people as events occurred.
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on July 30, 2000
Buzz Bissinger, whose book "Friday Night Lights" is a provocative page-turner on the world of high school sports, accomplishes the same effect with urban government here. I was born and raised within 30 miles of Philadelphia and now live in Houston, and this book drained my emotions about the city I still think of as home as well as my new home. In showing how Ed Rendell used all of his character and will to turn the city around, and also demonstrating how he was powerless in many of his attempts to achieve reform, Bissinger proves that Rendell fought the good fight and that others must as well if our cities are to be saved. His final chapter, on the fate of the city's Navy yard, pulses with human drama.
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on February 12, 2017
A great view inside the workings of city government. Everything from the grandiose plans for the future to the mean, small minded racial fighters that care more about advancing their own image than improving life for the citizens.
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on October 23, 1998
A wonderful book about a truly horrible subject, Bissinger takes us deep into the world of Ed Rendell and his fearless sidekick, David Cohen. Quite possibly the best mayor in Philadelphia's recent, spotted history, (Compare Frank "Keep the N***** Down" Rizzo and Wilson "Bombs Away" Goode), Rendell tried his best to save the city from an eroding tax base, racial politics and rampant violence.

Bissinger does a wonderful job of portraying Rendell, a deeply flawed person but expert politico. Rendell has gotten a huge amount of positive press over the years, much of it deserved, but Bissinger is willing to point out Rendell's failings and weaknesses as well. His portrait of Cohen, the Spock to Rendell's Kirk is equally compelling.

In the end though, you realize that no matter how hard Rendell tries, the effort is hopeless. He simply can't fight companies that buy out long term Philadelphia businesses and move the jobs elsewhere, a federal government that seems to actively try to destroy inner cities, a state government that goes out of it's way to humilate a company that might have brought thousands of skilled jobs to the city, and the exodus of the tax-paying middle class from the city. A sense of melancholy overlays the last few chapters as it seems that Bissinger has accepted Rendell's ultimate failure as well.

Highly recommended
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on March 30, 2000
As a resident of a Philadelphia suburb I have more than a casual interest in the subject matter and I wasn't disappointed. Bissinger is an excellent writer, and I was especially impressed how he kept following the real-life plights of several different city citizens (one a black grandmother in a horrible neighborhood, the other a white middle-aged navy yard worker, etc.). The author does a superb job of detailing why the problems of America's cities today are extremely complex and possibly insurmountable. And his unbiased portrait of Mayor Rendell is not always flattering but is always humane.
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on July 17, 2011
Author Buzz Bissinger brings his readable style to the Philadelphia mayoralty of Ed Rendell. Elected mayor in late 1991, Rendell allowed Bissinger inside access to his administration, and as a result readers are treated to a very revealing look. Mayor Rendell took over a city in deep trouble, one suffering a serious budget deficit and a host of urban problems - crime, abandonment, job losses, welfare, etc. We see Mayor Rendell working diligently to cut the budget, save the shipyards, and keep the city from sinking further. He looked for help at the State House, the White House, from friends and foes, using his political skills to stroke egos to get things done. As one might expect, Rendell didn't win every batttle, but he was clearly skilled and he kept trying. I liked that Bissinger didn't ignore the mayor's faults, which included egotism, temper, non-appropriate comments to female reporters, and failing to better connect with the city's black community. I also liked that the author described the lives of a few ordinary citizens, thus providing readers with a broader view. Mayor Rendell didn't solve all the ills plaguing Philadelphia, but he did put the city on a seriously improved footing. No wonder he was re-elected in 1995 with 80% of the vote (and later elected Governor of Pennsylvania). All is described here in this nicely readable, gripping style.
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on May 13, 1999
This book is well written and a surprisingly fast read but it is also an important historical document about contemporary urban America. Can the American city be saved? Bissinger shows us there are no easy answers.
Unlike other commentators Bissinger offers no simple answers, and pulls no punches in exposing the innate incompetence of public bureaucracies as well as racist politics among minority politicians. He misses the mark slightly on the complexities of union politics but can't be blamed for that! I can only fault him on two things: the knee-jerk liberal outrage at businesses and investment firms that would rather make money than risky investments in low-return areas, and a failure to see that 'white (and, yes, middle-class black) flight' was driven by forces other than government policy and anti-minority prejudice. I recall no mention, for instance, of the Philly riots of '64.
A must read book!
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on January 21, 1999
As a person who believes in the American city and has lived my entire life in one, this book was a page-turner. The fact that Bussinger has such obvious admiration for Ed Rendell and his staff after spending four years nearly around the clock with them says so much about their commitment and their belief that Philadelphia is worth saving. I admit that I am a lover of old cities, and consider myself fortunate to have lived my entire life in a livable and lovely city. I will never understand the glee with which suburbanites gloat over urban problems and predict the downfall of urban America. If we go, you're next, and you'd better believe it. Any American living in the metropolitan area of a large city should support and hope that the city is prosperous, not revel in its problems.
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