May 30, 2024
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Michael Wildes Runs for Englewood Mayor

Michael Wildes served as mayor of Englewood from 2004 to 2010. He returned to private life to build his law practice specializing in immigration and spend time with his family. But he is troubled by what has happened to Englewood since his departure from government and decided he could no longer stand on the sidelines. Starting with the Democratic primary on Tuesday, June 5, Wildes is attempting to replace incumbent Frank Huttle III, who is stepping down, as Englewood’s mayor.

“I want to roll my sleeves up and get in and see what’s going on,” Wildes said. “There are a host of ways to help. I am most familiar with the role of mayor.”

Wildes told The Jewish Link that the city’s financial situation has deteriorated since he left office. “Englewood had a robust surplus when I left,” Wildes observed. “It had a thriving downtown and measured development that was going to feed the treasury and defray costs for residents for generations. But then spending went off the charts. The amount each department asked for kept spiraling upward. There was no effort to consolidate services or share costs with neighboring towns. And the schools, despite the good efforts of the newly constituted school board, are still not performing at the top rate people are paying.”

Although he can’t develop a detailed plan until he gets back in the mayor’s chair, Wildes wants to return to an era of prosperity by reinstituting the approaches that worked in his administration. “I was schooled by the likes of Jack Drakeford, a generation no longer with us, who understood how the city should be run,” he said. “We have diversity and extraordinary human resources that are untapped. Business and industry leaders are not lending advice to elected officials. The turnover in higher positions and salaries is unparalleled.”

Wildes said there are multiple ways of attacking the problems. “We must make sure development has been achieved that is remunerative, so we are sending more, not less, money in the city treasury. The mayor should go hat in hand to neighboring towns to look into how to share and defray costs. And we have a central business district that looks active but has many gaps.” As an example, he cited the visibility of his law practice. “I have had a branch on Palisade Avenue (in the main business district) since 2009. Not once did anyone ask me if I wanted to come down from the second floor into retail space so the city would look robust. It’s embarrassing.”

Wildes says the mayor should take a more proactive approach to arranging strategic partnerships with big companies to invest in entertainment and recreation facilities. “We need to look at the facilities we have—beautiful campuses close to the central business district that are off the (tax) rolls.” He said this approach has been pursued all over the country and already has a model in the partnership with the New Jersey Devils that Englewood resident Lisa Wisotsky arranged with the McKay Ice Rink. “A company like Coca Cola or Pepsi could invest in such a project and manage and run it like a company.” Wildes said he would pursue relationships he already has with companies like the developers of the American Dream complex in Secaucus and the owners of the Houston Rockets to consider these kinds of initiatives.

Wildes is not only saddened by the decline in Englewood’s economy; he also sees increasing fractures in the city’s civic life. “The mayor has to be a consensus builder. The diversity between cultures has not been enhanced. My greatest pride was in the annual Residents Day and scores of events to bring people together,” Wildes said. “Right now, we have so much infighting, the only thing that holds us together are complaints.”

He also sees a decline in the transparency and honesty of the city’s governance. “The outgoing mayor bullied half the city council and he’s running an employee of his, Phillip Meisner, against me because he wants to hold onto control. Both have funds in a controversial bank engaged in development. My opponent skipped four out of 12 meetings before resigning after only one year on the zoning board.”

Wildes calls himself a proud Democrat who knows how to work across the aisle with people in his personal and professional life. He counts the Trumps as clients and friends, having represented the president on immigration matters for 15 years. He decries politicians who speak in a different voice once they are elected. “When I grew up, my father (who founded the law practice) spoke to me in the same way he spoke to John Lennon (one of his clients), and somebody buying a newspaper. His credibility remained even keeled in his personal, professional and political life.”

Wildes would like to see more people in the community get involved in politics although he understands there’s a price to pay in family and private life. He has been a member of Hatzolah for 25 years, a member of the auxiliary police force and a federal prosecutor. With his youngest daughter off to Israel for the year after her high school graduation, Wildes is ready to return to government.

“I retired to focus on family and firm and I thank God for the beautiful blessing each has given me,” he said. “I’ve always believed public service is a trust you need to earn. I would like to bring a breath of fresh air back to government and remind people of Englewood’s promise. We need to work with our neighborhoods, lower the burden on taxpayers and create greater value. I have been effective in the past. When I concentrate on something, I work until it gets done.”

By Bracha Schwartz

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