Rendell apologizes for comments about Napolitano

The governor of Pennsylvania had been caught on a hot mic saying Janet Napolitano is a "perfect" DHS secretary because she doesn't have a family.

Topics: War Room, Janet Napolitano,

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is one of those politicians (see also Allen, George and Biden, Joe) who spends a lot of time removing his foot from his mouth. On Tuesday, he stuck it right back in with some comments he made while, without knowing it, he was near a hot mic.

Speaking about Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to head the Department of Homeland Security, Rendell said, “Janet’s perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it.”

CNN’s Campbell Brown went after Rendell for his remarks, saying:

[I]f a man had been Obama’s choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue? Would it have ever prompted a comment? Probably not. We all know the assumption tends to be that, with a man, there’s almost always a wife in the wings managing those family concerns…

Governor Rendell, I don’t mean to rake you over the coals here. I know what you meant to say, but your comments do perpetuate stereotypes that put us in boxes, both mothers and single women. In government and beyond, men have been given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to striking the right work/life balance. Women are owed the same consideration.

I mean, come on. Michael Chertoff is married with two grown children. His predecessor, Tom Ridge, had a family. Anybody remember a debate about whether they would have trouble balancing the demands of work and family?

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At a press conference on Wednesday, Rendell apologized. “I guess, if you stretch it, it could be taken by some people the wrong way,” he said. “I certainly didn’t mean it the wrong way. Janet is a friend of mine. She’s a great, great governor, and she’ll be a great Director of Homeland Security. And if anyone out there was offended, I apologize… What I meant is that Janet is a person who works 24/7, just like me. She works literally 24/7 as governor. She’ll do a great job. You have to live that job every minute.” 

Rendell also offered the example of Ridge having to give up golf when he ran DHS, saying, “You can’t have another job, you can’t have an avocation you’re addicted to like golf or anything like that.”

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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