PHILADELPHIA, MARCH 23 -- Mayor Ed Rendell, who concedes that he has a "salty, earthy" sense of humor, acknowledged today that he repeatedly made sexually suggestive remarks to a magazine writer as she reported a profile of him, including telling her, she wrote, "how he presumes I am in bed."
But, Rendell added of Philadelphia Magazine reporter Lisa DePaulo, "she gave as good as she got."
So unfolded the first major flap in the thus-far charmed tenure of the Philadelphia mayor, hailed nationally for his fiscal management of this troubled city, and forgiven -- until now -- at home for a ribald, frat-boy streak.
DePaulo, 33, who traveled to New York with Rendell for her article, wrote that when she reminded him he had left his bag in the car, he told her he owed her a favor: "Anything your heart desires. No task is too menial, too trivial or too abject." Later, he said: "They didn't schedule any time for me to do whatever you ask me to." The next morning, she wrote, he said he might exercise, "or ... you can get your favor then."
When she set off a metal detector with him in New York City Hall, DePaulo said, Rendell commented "take it off Lis! Take everything off!" Later, she wrote, he said she "must have a spiked metal bra on."
Rendell, 50, also compared himself to Bill Clinton: "We're both gregarious and fun, we both love sports, we both have a genuine affection for politics ... both married to successful women lawyers ... both have big hearts, we both love junk food and have problems with our weight." And, he added, laughing, "you can draw some other conclusions."
At a City Hall news conference today, Rendell did not attempt to defend his remarks, except to say that he frequently engages in "salty, earthy" conversations with women, but "I would never be salty or earthy with someone I think will be offended by it." He said he had known DePaulo for several years, had bantered with her in this fashion before, and believed he was not offending her.
DePaulo said in an interview that she thought Rendell crossed the line when he told her he "heard something very interesting" about her, then outlined "in raw and alliterative terms how he presumes I am in bed. All of which he says I 'should find flattering.' "
She said she asked him to stop, warning that if he didn't, "Whatever you say is in the story. Then he kept it up." Told that Rendell portrayed her as a willing participant, DePaulo said: "Did I continue the conversation? You betcha. Because I wanted to see how far he would go with it."
"I feel a little stupid," Rendell said at his news conference. "I'm not perfect and I'm not a saint. ... I am what I am and I can't change. ... But I will be more careful, cautious of people's feelings."
The raging question here is whether the story will hurt him. Or, as DePaulo wrote: "Will Ed Rendell's most notable attributes -- that raw, unadulterated realness that makes everyone, this reporter included, a fan of his ability to govern -- also be his undoing?" This morning's Philadelphia Daily News, a tabloid, ran the story of Rendell's remarks to DePaulo on its cover with the headline, "Day Spent With Mayor Was Laden With Sexual Innuendo, Magazine Writer Says." The story led the noon television news and was prominent on all three major local news broadcasts tonight.
Republican media consultant Chris Mottolo thinks Rendell will survive the furor. Rendell, he said, is the first mayor here since 1970 "who's not overtly corrupt, overtly incompetent or scared to wield the power." The comments, he said, were "stupid and boorish. But he has more political capital to go through than anyone in Pennsylvania."