“My Way”

Pall bearers steadily moved the flag-draped coffin carrying the body of Senator Arlen Specter through massive Har Zion Temple, and as they took their small, halting steps, Frank Sinatra’s large anthem of a full life, “My Way,” played to the 15 hundred people who had gathered to recall a “great statesman” and a remarkable man.Image

Friends, family and dignitaries gathered today in Penn Valley:  Vice-President Joe Biden, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, past and current U.S. Senators, elected officials from throughout the region, the Deputy Israeli Ambassador and more. The nearly two hours of reflection was at times humorous, at times tearful, but always as the Senator might have liked, moving forward.  It was also at times presented as if attorneys were making the case for a man’s greatness.  If it were a debate, they would have won it.

The Vice-President canceled campaign appearances in western swing states today to be here to say goodbye to his friend. He began his remarks with, “My name is Joe Biden. I was Arlen’s friend.”  He was in full Biden seriousness and in full Biden humor. It was no doubt like the train rides the two of them shared. Joe Biden said of his friend, “Arlen had exceptional character,” and that he had “never seen a man with as much undaunted courage.”

Former Governor Ed Rendell, who was hired by District Attorney Arlen Specter,  said ”We were proud of you…We will always be proud of you.” Rendell’s voice broke a couple of times as he praised his mentor and colleague.

Longtime friends of Arlen Specter remembered his early days and the personal side of the very public figure. Words such as “true grit,” “will,” and “integrity” filled the eulogies.  Arlen lived, “A productive and meaningful life.”  “He wasn’t afraid to fail.”

Tribute was paid to widow Joan Specter.  Granddaughters spoke, too. Said Sylvie of her grandfather, “He worked tirelessly to be the best grandfather ever, and he succeeded.”  Specter’s son, Shanin, summed up the afternoon’s recollections and expanded on his father’s love of the fight for fairness and of standing by friends in trouble, regardless of political consequences.  Said Shanin, “He was “the patron saint of lost causes.”

The above were among the public statements I heard, but before the service began I spoke with people from various walks of life, all who genuinely are pained by the loss of a man who made a difference. Among them, those with a stake in the fight against cancer, community leaders, as well as public figures indebted to his leadership. Pall bearer and Congressman, Pat Meehan, for example, who wore the loss on his face.

Arlen Specter did not plan this final  service. As he told his family, “surprise me.”  But as Sinatra filled the quiet of the Temple, it felt, after 82 years on earth, 59 years of marriage, kids and grandkids, students and colleagues, wins and losses, causes, quests, and even windmills, it felt right to say that Arlen Specter did do it his way.

Rendell on Obama, Biden, Hillary and your roads & taxes

 Governor Ed Rendell told me in conversation on NBC10 that he believes President Barack Obama is not in danger of being a one-term President, but he did have a criticism about the Administration.  Says Governor Rendell, “I think the President’s done a good job, his communication’s strategy has been awful…We got outspun on the  stimulus. We got outspun on health care.”  Rendell defended health care reform as a deficit reducer.  As to the suggestion by former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder that maybe President Obama should replace on the 2012 ticket Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton as his running mate, Rendell said, “Joe Biden has done an excellent job.  Would Hillary be stronger electorally for the ticket?  Sure… Some people have gone even further and said Joe Biden would be Secretary of State.  If this were baseball, it would be a great trade.”  But, Rendell believes it won’t happen and that Joe Biden has performed well as Vice-President.  I asked him who has helped the President more publicly, Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden?  He said, “Well, she has because she’s had a different portfolio.”

Governor Rendell also continued his push to make up the $472 million gap in transportation funding since the federal government struck down the plan to toll part of I-80.   He wants the legislature to go above that number, saying in all, about 3.5 billion dollars needs to be spent every year to fix Pennsylvania’s crumbling bridges, roads and mass transit.  Says Rendell, “We’re (the U.S.) on  the way to becoming a third rate economic power,” given what other nations such as China, are doing.  As for legislators who refuse to consider any types of tax and fee increases, the Governor sees them taking chances with people’s lives and livelihoods.  I asked him if they are playing “road roullette” with people’s lives.  Rendell answered, “You don’t want to use scare tactics and necessarily say that but there’s no question…the absolute truth is we are playing Russian roulette. We’ve got to get to it(fixing roads, bridges, mass transit).”  Rendell believes most people understand the need for more revenue when it comes to roads and bridges.  Says the Governor, “People aren’t dumb.  In Harrisburg they(the legislators) think we’re (the people) dumb as dirt.  They (the people) understand you get what you pay for…you gotta maintain things.  The people who favor this are the silent majority.”

Rendell’s plan to raise the money needed generally involves the four items below.  1. Tax the oil companies. 7 major oil companies who sell 13 billion gallons of fuel in Pennsylvania every year pay $70 million total and one of those 7 pays $35 billion of that.  The other oil companies avoid a much larger tax bite because they use the Delaware loophole.  2. Rendell would also raise the gas tax 3.5 to 4 cents a gallon.  It has not been raised since 1997.  3. He would also raise the annual vehicle registration fee with inflation.  4. The Governor says he likes the Republican-favored public-private partnerships, who involve “Hot Lanes” or other types of tolling.  He points to his recent joint announcement with Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over expansion of the Scudder Falls Bridge over the Delaware as evidence of that.  But, Rendell adds that at best such parternships would fix only about 8 to 10 percent of the problem.

 As for why he’s fighting so hard and so publicly when many legislators and voters see him as a lame duck, Governor Ed Rendell responded, “I don’t have a lot of clout left because I am going out the door, but people pay me to serve a full 4 years.  Up until January 17th I’m the governor and I’m going to take advantage of it every day.”