Baer enters race for Englewood Mayor and is trounced by Wildes 

By STEVE KORNACKI
PoliticsNJ.com

State Sen. Byron Baer (D-Englewood)ENGLEWOOD, March 18 - State Sen. Byron M. Baer (D-Englewood) stunned North Jersey Democrats this afternoon by abruptly entering the race for Mayor of Englewood, only to be trounced in a vote of the city's Democratic committee in what one insider called "a master chess move that didn't work out."

Baer notified Englewood's Democratic chairwoman, Violet Cherry, of his intentions at 4:45 this afternoon.  Hours later, he presented himself to two-dozen members of Englewood's Democratic committee at a closed-door meeting.

But the committee voted 18-4 for Baer's opponent, Councilman Michael J. Wildes.  The committee's recommendation will now be forwarded to Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero, who awards spots in the party's column on the primary ballot. 

"I can't tell you how much of a shock that was to me," Cherry said of Baer's late entry. 

Baer's emergence apparently came after a frantic and futile search by Ferriero for a candidate who could beat Wildes.  The mighty Democratic chairman is said to resent Wildes' successful effort to thwart an Englewood development project that Ferriero was supporting.

Wildes, a 38-year-old former Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York,  has worked outside of the traditional party structure, bringing in big-name out-of-state politicians (most recently New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton) and amassing an enormous campaign war chest.  His critics say he is a self-promoter, but acknowledge that he is a formidable candidate.

Ferriero first sought to convince incumbent Mayor Paul Fader to seek re-election.  When that effort failed, he considered Councilmen Jack Drakeford and Doug Bern, as well as Bergen County Freeholder Valerie Huttle. But each was either not interested or deemed unelectable. 

As a result, Ferriero entered today without a candidate to oppose Wildes, who had announced he was running more than a week earlier.

Sources say Ferriero turned to Baer because he concluded that the 73-year-old legislator was the only Democrat with a chance of winning a municipal committee vote, and if necessary, a primary.

Baer has served in the legislature since 1971, and when Wildes was exploring a bid to unseat him several months ago, Baer released a poll showing him crushing Wildes among 37th District Democrats.

To get Baer to run, sources say Ferriero called in a favor: the chairman had talked former Assemblyman Ken Zisa out of challenging Baer for the Senate earlier this year.  In exchange, Baer apparently agreed to resign his seat in the middle of his next term, at which point Zisa would be appointed to fill it.  But Baer is said to be grateful for the extra time in the upper chamber.  

"Baer will do just about anything Joe asks, so he asked him to run for mayor," a source said.

But insiders say Ferriero should have realized the plan was doomed from the start, and that Englewood's municipal committee would recoil at the thought of abetting a backroom deal struck by the county chairman.

"These guys are the anti-boss folks," one Democrat said.    

Some say Ferriero hoped that Baer's late entrance would at least cause Cherry to postpone the municipal vote, but Cherry rejected that idea without hesitation.

"I believe in the democratic process and will not let anybody disrupt or demean it in any way," she said after the meeting.  "I did everything right today."

Cherry said she and other committee members saw Baer's entrance as "a potential manipulation" by county party
leaders. 

"We're not fools and we're not dummies, and we will not be frightened by anyone," she said.

Cherry said she would send the results of the committee's vote to Ferriero by registered mail on Wednesday.

Traditionally, the county party has respected the votes of municipal committees, but insiders say that Ferriero's distaste for Wildes is so intense that he is likely to over-ride the Englewood committee's vote and put his own candidate on the party's line.

Baer indicated his campaign probably won't extend past tonight.

The senator said he had doubts about getting into the race, but entered at the urging of friends who told him he'd have plenty of support on the Democratic committee.

"I think it was a mistake on my part to allow myself to be persuaded," Baer said afterwards.  "I want to focus my energies on the Senate and that's what I always tried to do."

Baer denied that Ferriero had leaned on him to enter the race, saying it was "purely local."

He called a primary campaign for mayor "unlikely".

"If they try to persuade me to run, I'll be very reluctant," Bear said.

Cherry said that if Wildes is not placed on the party's line, Ferriero will have "disregarded, demeaned and disrespected the [municipal] committee."

Observers agree that Wildes is in a strong position now.  If Ferriero buckles and puts the councilman on the party line, Wildes should have no problem winning the primary.  And even if he's not on the line, he will be able to run a well-financed campaign railing against Ferriero's "insider deals."

In fact, Cherry said, Ferriero's intervention might actually have boosted his adversary's cause at the municipal committee meeting.

"It wasn't that Michael did anything that special," she said.  "It's that they sensed there was an outside hand attempting to manipulate the process."
Steve Kornacki can be reached at kornackinj@aol.com

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