When it comes to political consulting, I'm no James Carville. I'm not bald, I'm not married to a sour-pussed Republican, I don't have a Cajun accent, I don't stammer, and I've never run a campaign.
But as an amateur wanna-be political consultant I've got some advice for Gov. Ed Rendell: Dump Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll.
He didn't want her in the first place. He was hoping state senator (now Auditor General) Jack Wagner would win the primary in '02, and he didn't. So Rendell got stuck with a veteran statewide officeholder and ghost of Pennsylvania politics past, the lovely and talented Ms. Knoll.
Mind you, I have nothing against Cathy. The last time I saw her at a local Democratic Party function, she was very sweet as always. But we all have to retire sooner or later. For Ms. Knoll, it's time.
How embarrassing is it that, during a debate in the state Senate -- over which she presides as the LG -- that she referred to Rendell as "Edward G. Robinson"? As Robinson's Little Caesar character Rico might say, "Mmmmyeah, see, it's curtains for Cathy, see, mmmmyeah."
I'm quite sure the older I get, the more zombie-like I'll become. I'll continue to do what I've always done, but I'll do it a little slower. That's what Cathy is doing. She has the zombie glare and the zombie aura. And she stumbled into the funeral of a Pennsylvania Marine who died in Iraq and did what political zombies have always done: She worked the room.
"Working the room" means shaking hands and kissing babies and handing out business cards and saying something supportive about whatever the event is about. It's not unusual for politicians to go to funerals. But it is extremely tacky, if not downright gross, for them to attend the funerals of people they do not know who were killed in Iraq as part of a perfunctory pattern of populist politics.
Though she denies it, Ms. Knoll is quoted as telling family members of the deceased that the Rendell administration did not support the war in Iraq. You can't tell a family of flag-waving Bush supporters that you're not behind the neo-cons' hapless effort to reshape the Middle East.
Knoll has apologized to Amy Goodrich, widow of Staff Sgt. Joseph Goodrich, who was killed. Gov. Rendell has also apologized. It turns out that Rhonda Goodrich, Amy's sister and the person who has been raising the biggest stink about all this, is a Republican activist. That may explain part of Rhonda Goodrich's motivation for crying foul, but Knoll still screwed the pooch by going to the funeral in the first place. If you hand your political opponents a big stick to beat you over the head with, then you deserve the public flogging for saying or doing something stupid.
Here's the way thing should play out. Rendell has said he doesn't see any reason why Knoll wouldn't be his running mate in '06. That's the kind of lukewarm support that makes you want to find another foxhole partner. Privately of course, Rendell is obviously hoping someone persuades Cathy to drop out. Cathy is a classic old-school pol who likely doesn't want to get out until political hacks show up at her funeral. If she won't jump, somebody's gotta push her -- and if she won't be pushed, she needs a primary challenger.
Here's an unoriginal idea for Knoll's replacement. Valerie McDonald Roberts, Allegheny County recorder of deeds.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette already had a story floating the McDonald Roberts trial balloon. She's African American, savvy and pretty. Sorry to be so shallow, but looks can make a difference. And since pretty boy Lynn Swann might end up snagging the GOP lieutenant governor nomination (sorry, Lynn, but there's no way you're going to get the gubernatorial nod this time around), it's time to fight fire with fire.
Knoll has always reminded me, in countenance and spirit, of Gloria Swanson's washed-up silent-movie actress character in the classic Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond. Let's get Mr. DeMille to give Cathy her close-up, then get her the hell out.