Reproduced from The Jewish Press
Friday, February 27, 2004
by Michael J. Wildes, Mayor, City of Englewood
2-10 N. Van Brunt Street
Englewood , NJ 07631
A Rising Political Star
By Ann J. Lieb, Esq.
Michael Wildes, the Mayor of Englewood, New Jersey, is not your average local politician. This high profile immigration lawyer has represented several defectors, has been the target of death threats, has testified on Capitol Hill in connection with anti-terrorism legislation, and has been a frequent legal commentator on network television. He is a certified EMT with Hatzolah Volunteer Ambulance Corps in New York (he leaves clients in his office when he is called out to an emergency). He sits on the Board of Directors with Boys Town of Jerusalem, and served over ten years with the NYPD as kippah -wearing Auxiliary Police Officer Mike. Married, the father of four children, this rising star in the National Democratic Party draws his strength and many successes from solid Torah values and an Orthodox upbringing.
Love for his parents includes the deep respect of Kibud Av Va'Em . “I am proud to be a partner in the law firm Wildes, Weinberg, Grunblatt & Wildes, P.C., concentrating in the immigration and nationality field, a firm which grew out of my father's practice and now consists of 30 wonderful employees. My father, Leon Wildes, Esq., is my inspiration. He grew up in a small town in the heart of America , Olyphant , Pennsylvania , a coal-mining town. There was one cheder , one shul, one lulav . He grew up with an appreciation for Yiddishkeit and the nation, and he transmitted love for both to me.
“Ever since I was little I wanted to work with my dad and if he had owned a little store, I would have been proud to sweep it. The ultimate nachas was to be sworn in as Mayor of Englewood by my father and by Senator Lautenberg, while I held my Zayde's Chumash , which was inscribed in 1929.”
Michael is very sensitive to the trials and tribulations that his ancestors encountered, how they retained their Yiddishkeit in the face of adversity and anti-Semitism, and how as immigrants to the United States they became great citizens. He convenes all meetings wearing his maternal great grandfather's ring, the ring of a German Jew ousted by Hitler from a successful business, as a constant reminder that he must appreciate where he came from and honor the public trust. His desire to help people comes from the knowledge of immigrants' struggles, and in particular, those of his own family.
“At our law firm, we are fortunate to represent heads of states, executives and some very wonderful housekeepers. We treat each and ever person with dignity, for we admire the way people have embraced the principles of our nation.”
The mitzvah of Hakarat Hatov , recognition of good deeds, is an important one. “I never pass up an opportunity to represent without fee someone who has suffered extraordinarily, or done extraordinary things.” Such was the case with Kwame James, a young Caribbean basketball player, who on December 22, 2001 , single handedly over-powered a terrorist on board American Airline Flight 63, and stood guard for the three and a half hours to land. Soon after, the basketball team cut James, and as result the United States would not renew his six month visa. Enlisting the help on Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY now Chief Deputy Whip of the House of Representatives) and U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Michael succeeded in convincing the Department of Homeland Security to permit Kwame, a Canadian citizen, to remain in the United States and continue playing professional basketball.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” he declared. “Mr. James saved American lives because he responded with qualification when he was asked to help. He did not ask who needed his help or why, he simply acted because the people behind him on that plane needed him. He wasn't asking for our support, or our financial assistance, or anything other than a chance to stay here and continue to pursue his childhood dream. Kwame James has done more to protect American citizens than many Americans do to protect their fellow citizens. We had 197 reasons to protect Kwame James.”
Michael Wildes represented Rabbi Isagh BaalNess, Chief Rabbi of Shiraz , Iran , who was targeted in the New York City area. “The Rabbi had sent seforim from Israel back home to his community, and was accused of being a spy. Since he was out of the country, they threw 13 prominent Jewish leaders into prison and put them on trial. I succeeded in getting him citizenship and protecting his security.”
Michael was thankful for the help of Katie Couric of NBC's Today Show, the Today Show, and the hearts of the American people, for their sympathetic responses and public outcry at the plight at the Shaban family. Mrs. Shaban was battling breast cancer and faced a terrible medical report. Mr. Shaban was being deported. Michael, who had lost his mother to breast cancer, cut through the red tape at the INS to permit Mr. Shaban to stay in the United States and care for his dying wife. Appearing on the Today Show with the Shaban family, Michael stressed the need for compassion and awareness in fighting this disease.
He has helped secure the return to the United States of children who were kidnapped by parents to foreign countries. He has worked tirelessly for survivors of the World Trade Center who were embroiled in immigration proceedings.
As Mayor of Englewood, New Jersey, Michael focuses on improving the public education system because he believes that children of all backgrounds should have as great an opportunity to succeed as he had. He also concentrates on building bridges between the different communities, attending all functions and events, including weddings and funerals. “I walk all day Shabbos . I go to more meetings than my legs let me. There are 59 houses of worship in the community, an amazing diversity, reminding me of the melting pot that our nation is and the beauty it stores.” He's concerned about politicians who have a “business as usual attitude,” and doesn't want anybody to profit from the public trust.
“When I served as a Federal Prosecutor with the United States Attorney's Office in Brooklyn (1989-1993) I had a snapshot of how this trust could be violated. That left a bad taste. Public service is a public trust. I know how significant this trust is and I work hard for it.”
Michael has developed close ties with many national Democratic leaders. “Senator Joseph Lieberman is a dear mentor. He spent over an hour with me the first time we met, instead of the allotted ten minutes. I asked him pointed questions including what it was like to be an Orthodox Jew in politics.”
He numbers Senator Frank Lautenberg, Senator Evan Bayh, Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Hillary Clinton and Congressman Crowley as friends and has hosted special events in their honor, bringing prominent leaders from politics, government and the legal community together.
Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the OU Kashruth Division and Rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Emunah describes Michael as helpful to the Jewish interests of his community. “He has an impressive portfolio of influential Democrats in the US Senate who endorsed him in his mayoral campaign. I look forward to great things from Michael Wildes in the future.”
Paid for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Claudia Colbert, Treasurer