enters race for Englewood Mayor and is trounced by Wildes
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
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
"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
Cherry said she and other committee members saw Baer's entrance as "a
potential manipulation" by county party
"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
"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
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
Steve Kornacki can be reached at email@example.com
for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Claudia Colbert, Treasurer