NEARLY A DECADE AFTER LEAVING OFFICE, THE FORMER MAYOR OF ENGLEWOOD RETURNS FOR A THIRD TERM, COMMITTED TO RESTORING THE TOWNSHIP’S ECONOMIC STRENGTH AND VITALITY
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
When Michael Wildes hung up his hat as mayor of Englewood in 2010, he looked back on his administration’s work over the previous six years and felt proud.
“We made an enormity of progress,” explained Wildes, who has called the Bergen County municipality home for nearly 25 years. After serving two terms in the city’s highest elected office, he decided to retire from public life, dedicate his energy to his work as the managing partner at Wildes & Weinberg, an immigration law firm, and spend more time at home with his family.
“I have four children that needed their father around,” recalled the mayor. “My daughter Jaclyn told me one day to kick off my shoes. When I asked her why, she said that I can’t run for mayor if I’m not wearing shoes. So after two terms, I decided to retire to focus on my family and my firm.” “But frankly, I did miss it,” he admitted.
So it was less than surprising when, in June 2018, the former mayor’s name appeared once again on the ballot for the Democratic mayoral primary. Although eight years had passed since the veteran of public service had held office, he felt compelled to come out of retirement. In the primary, even though Wildes’s name did not sit on the party ballot line (since that name is seen first by voters, it’s widely considered a significant advantage for a candidate), he won a two to one victory over his opponent. When the general election rolled around in November, he won in a landslide.
Wildes officially took office as the mayor of Englewood on Jan. 4. There is a long list of initiatives he wants to tackle, though “The real challenge right now is to restore the economic vitality of our city,” he explained.
Born and raised in Queens, New York, Wildes grew up under the tutelage of his father, Leon Wildes, a prominent immigration lawyer who gained national recognition in the early 1970s for his successful legal defense of John Lennon during the musician’s highly publicized deportation proceedings initiated by the Nixon administration.
“I grew up in the household of a legend,” he said. “I wanted to always be around my father and hold his briefcase. I knew I would follow in his footsteps.”
And follow he did. After graduating with honors from Queens College of the City University of New York, the aspiring attorney began his public service career as an officer in the New York Police Department’s 112th Precinct. At the same time, he was pursuing a law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. In 1989, after receiving his degree, he moved from the police department to become a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn. Four years later, Wildes left that job to take a position at his father’s law firm, Wildes & Weinberg, which specialized in immigration and nationality issues. Since then he has represented a diverse range of high profile clients, including First Lady Melania Trump and the famous Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen.
In 1995, two years after joining his father’s firm, Wildes and his wife decided that the time had come to relocate their family across the Hudson River. For the born and bred New Yorker, the question of where they would settle was an easy one: Englewood. The small city was on his radar long before he called the Garden State home.
“I always knew of Englewood. Growing up, I knew it had these magnificent trees and a wonderful diversity, which was compelling to me. The people here were leaders of industry. I felt very much at home,” Wildes said.
“But I knew there was a challenge that it still faced,” he added. Three years after he officially became a resident, Wildes ran and was elected to the City Council. In 2003, after two terms, he decided to run for mayor. He won, and served from 2004 to 2010.
Now back for a third term almost 10 years later, the mayor is enthusiastic about his plans for the city. “We need to raise the banner of bringing people together from all walks of life and faiths,” he explained. Planned projects include a full service community center, a citywide trolley system, downtown gallery walks, and other programs to ensure members of the community have an opportunity to meet and come together.
“Englewood has given me so much, and I’m ready once again to get to work serving this community,” he said. “I’ve always considered public service to be a trust…one you have to continue to earn. I expect to have a standing seat at Starbucks so people can come have a Sunday morning coffee with the mayor.”
Recently, Wildes’ passion for promoting diversity also led him to write a book, titled Safe Haven in America: Battles to Open the Golden Door (American Bar Association, 2018). The book, which details the author’s many years as an immigration authority, offers real life stories told by many of the different people and families Wildes has represented over the years. Safe Haven was released last fall, and since then, the author has traveled regularly to libraries throughout the tri state area to speak at various events.
“I have a lot to say about immigration challenges,” he said. “I have seen them firsthand when it came to my experience as the retired mayor.”
Although his career has included stints as a public official, a lawyer, an author, law professor, and public speaker, Wildes explained that his greatest accomplishment is his four children. Drawing on the lessons he learned in his own childhood home, he encouraged all of them to one day pursue careers that move society forward and help the less fortunate.
“Despite the fact that their father spends a lot of time out of the house, they seem to have drawn the same lesson that I did from my father, which is to get involved with something more than yourself and to pave forward a way to enhance the lives around you,” he said.
The mayor is also a philanthropist, and makes a point of volunteering when time allows. He is celebrating his 26th year with Hatzalah, a volunteer emergency medical service organization serving principally Jewish communities around the world one that features the largest volunteer ambulance fleet in the U.S.
“With all the professional opportunities and trust that’s been placed in me,” he said, “I’m most proud of that volunteer work. It reminds me how precious and important it is to help.”
When asked how long he plans to remain in office this time around, Wildes smiled. “My plan,” he said, “is to stick around and serve in any way until the job is done.”
Michael Wildes / Mayor of Englewood
Municipal Office: 2 10 North Van Brunt Street, Englewood
201.871.6637 / cityofenglewood.org
Wildes & Weinberg P.C.
New Jersey Office: 90 West Palisade Avenue, Englewood
212.753.3468 / wildeslaw.com