Reproduced from Local News Section of The Record

Sunday, October 20, 2002

by Michael J. Wildes, Mayor, City of Englewood

2-10 N. Van Brunt Street

Englewood , NJ 07631

201.871.6666

 

The Record

Sunday, October 20, 2002

 

BY: Douglas Crouse, Staff Writer

 

Englewood Democrat upsetting colleagues

 

Wildes: Making waves, ruffling feathers

 

ENGLEWOOD - The message from Michael Wildes' fellow party members left little room for interpretation.

In June, just days after the councilman announced his bid for treasurer of the Bergen County Democratic Organization, party leaders sent fliers accusing him of back-stabbing and power-grabbing. One mailing included quotes attributed to the mayor and three other City Council members calling Wildes untrustworthy and disloyal.

But Wildes, who savors his reputation as a maverick, said he sensed something else - fear and frustration.

"What happens when you corner a rat? It lunges for you. And that's what happened with the literature," Wildes said, citing his well-known ability to raise campaign funds. "They're frustrated with my success. I don't hear the people on the street saying those things."

Many expect Wildes to run for mayor in June's Democratic primary, a prospect that has his critics weighing possible opponents. In
Englewood , where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5-to-1, a primary win is viewed as tantamount to election.

Wildes said a mayoral run is a "serious consideration," and he expressed interest in the state Senate and, in the longer term, Congress.

Since taking office in the 2nd Ward in 1999, Wildes, a former federal prosecutor, has cast the sole dissenting vote on several key issues, including a $500 million redevelopment plan that ultimately failed on a legal technicality. He also supported a switch to an elected school board - which voters approved soundly in 2000 - when most other elected leaders favored sticking with an appointed board.

His critical comments during public meetings typically produce a mixed response: applause from much of the audience and retorts from Democratic colleagues.

Critics say Wildes' refusal to be a "team player" in the Democratic Party will hinder his political progress. Those critics include Joseph Ferriero, chairman of the
county Democratic Party .

" Michael Wildes only cares about his own political ambition," Ferriero, himself a celebrated money-raiser, wrote in one of the June mailings to party officials.

Among the Democrats who indicated they may run for mayor are county Freeholder Valerie Huttle and 1st Ward Councilman Doug Bern, who faces off with independent Horace Ragbir in next month's council election. Ragbir has received advice from Wildes' campaign manager.

Until recently few expected Mayor Paul Fader to seek a third term. But some party insiders say a Wildes candidacy could change that.

Fader did not return phone calls seeking comment on Wildes and the mayoral race.

Huttle said Democratic leaders are "drafting" Fader to run again, and that she probably would not run if the mayor seeks reelection.
Bern , who for months said he was considering a bid for mayor, said last week that for now he is not. Fader ran unopposed in his two prior primaries.

In
Englewood , the mayor's power flows in large part from making appointments to the planning and zoning boards. The mayor also can veto ordinances, with a vote of four of the five council members needed to override.

Bern called Wildes a "polarizing figure," saying he often reserves criticism of new initiatives for public meetings to achieve maximum effect.

"It's one thing to grandstand" when a vote is taken,
Bern said. "But if one doesn't render effective criticism in discussions with your colleagues, it's all fluff."

Wildes said he simply stands up for what he believes. For example, he said fellow council members' vote for the redevelopment plan - by a developer Ferriero's law firm represents - was irresponsible.

"The only way I can expose these things is to bring them to the public," Wildes said. "The residents of the city are my boss, not the mayor and members of the council."

Wildes' fellow elected leaders said their support for the plan by S. Hekemian Kasparian Troast was based solely on its merits.

Donald Aronson, the city's mayor from 1989 to 1997, said Wildes' dissension has been healthy. "It's very dangerous in a one-party town to have a lock-step council," he said.

Wildes, a husband and father of four, leads a very different life in
Manhattan , where he has taken on highly publicized immigration cases as a private-practice attorney.

During a fund-raiser there last month, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., wished Wildes good fortune in his pursuits.

"I have confidence in your rise in your [city,] your state, and, with God's help, even in our country," Lieberman told him in front of a large audience.

In his bid for party treasurer, Wildes challenged Matthew McCarter, Ferriero's choice. But Wildes withdrew at the last minute, saying he didn't want to create party divisions. Ferriero said at the time that Wildes realized he lacked sufficient support.

Following the June mailings, Huttle and Councilman Wayne Hamer said they had been misquoted as impugning Wildes' character, though they supported his opponent.

"Ferriero could have found a place for me, but he didn't care to," Wildes said. "In the meantime, I'll just keep smothering them with smiles and checks." Ferriero did not return a call seeking comment.

Wildes' most recent finance report shows his campaign received more than $45,000 in contributions in the past three months and had more than $140,000 in an account. Many of his contributors who gave $500 or more live out of state, the majority in
New York .

First Ward resident Norman Davis faulted Wildes for his combativeness with other city leaders, but he said Wildes' strengths have not escaped political rivals.

"His ability to raise money scares other candidates. They're afraid every time they send out fliers that he'll respond with his own,"
Davis said.

Wildes makes no apologies for his aspirations. "Ambition is a major ingredient that, coupled with character, will determine whether you succeed," he said. "Ambition is half of what it takes to get there."

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