from Local News Section of The Record
October 20, 2002
Michael J. Wildes, Mayor, City of Englewood
N. Van Brunt Street
October 20, 2002
Douglas Crouse, Staff Writer
Democrat upsetting colleagues
Making waves, ruffling feathers
- 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
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
" 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
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.
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
"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
First Ward resident Norman Davis faulted Wildes for his combativeness
with other city leaders, but he said Wildes' strengths have not escaped
"His ability to raise money scares other candidates. They're afraid
every time they send out fliers that he'll respond with his own,"
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."
for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Claudia Colbert, Treasurer