Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes may be stepping down after his term expires, but he is still expected to play a major role in the upcoming election.
"I would be shocked if there was not a Democratic primary. I would not object to that," said Councilman Scott Reddin, an adversary of Wildes who so far is the only declared candidate for mayor.
Politics in this ethnically diverse and heavily Democratic city of 26,000 have been driven over the last six years by the rivalry between the headline-generating Wildes, a fundraising powerhouse who has been candid that he aspires to higher office and who has been a key ally of former county Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero, and his adversaries, who hold a 4-1 majority on the council.
For his mayoral bid, Reddin has the support of fellow council members Charlotte Bennett Schoen, Ken Rosenzweig and Gordon Johnson, who is also a state assemblyman (Johnson ran in 2006 to take out Wildes-backed incumbent Vernon Walton, and will not seek reelection this year). The other councilman, Jack Drakeford, is aligned with Wildes.
Reddin said that, if elected, he would govern with a much more low-key style than Wildes.
"I would use it as a bully pulpit for various issues and causes, but you wouldn't find me with my picture in the paper on virtually every occasion," he said.
Reddin's power would actually be diminished if he becomes mayor, since the office is designed to have weak powers, but said that he wants to do it because it is "the ultimate honor of a person who spends his whole life in the town or the neighboring town, to become the mayor."
"As someone who's grown up here, my total interest is in what's happening in Englewood and not somewhere down the line," he said.
Reddin is a former aide to U.S. Rep. Steven Rothman (D-Fair Lawn), who was the Mayor of Englewood from 1983 to 1989. He is now the Executive Director of Project Literacy, a non-profit organization.
Reddin's running mate, who will seek to replace Johnson as the council's at-large member, has yet to be determined. Keeping a 4-1 majority on the council is important for Reddin and his allies. A smaller majority will take away the council's power to override a mayoral veto – something that may be necessary if a Wildes ally is elected.
Wildes' preferred mayoral candidate has yet to emerge, but he has laid out one guideline.
"It has been four decades since Englewood has seen the election of an African American as mayor. The time has come again. In my final efforts as mayor, I will work diligently to make that happen in 2009," he said in a prepared statement.
Wildes yesterday told PolitickerNJ.com that he would also be open to a Hispanic candidate.
Johnson, who is Black, disagreed with the notion that race should play any role in deciding who the next mayor is.
"I don't think it has to be (an African-American). I think it should be someone who's qualified for the position," he said.
One early name that surfaces as a Wildes pick is Rev. William Marcus Small, a Zoning Board member. Small could not be reached for comment.
Another floated name, Vince Monden, a local pastor, took his name out of the mix when contacted by PolitickerNJ.com today.
In his statement, Wildes made it clear that he still wants to run for higher office, though did not go into specifics.
"When it comes to politics I am looking toward the future, something I have been preparing to do for some time now," said Wildes, whose federal campaign account has $626,345 cash on hand.
But he defended himself against Reddin's' charge that his ambition had overshadowed his commitment to the city.
"I am not sure of the strategy of Mr. Reddin's advisors or what it says about his judgment to start a campaign by insulting and alienating an outgoing mayor who was reelected by a two to one margin," he said. "Despite his comments I am not going to involve myself in the race at this time."