NEWARK – The Ironbound trinity of faith, family and friends buttress the life and candidacy of retired Community Service Detective Mike Silva, the proud native son of Portuguese immigrants and father of a 14-year old boy, who after a 28-year-career in the Newark PD offers his experience and neighborhood-based commitment to people as a candidate for the City council in the East Ward.
“It honestly took me a little time to come to this point,” Silva told InsiderNJ in a restaurant down the block from where he grew up with his brother on a second floor apartment on Elm Street. “I don’t have all the answers. I know how dirty politics can be. Maybe being too honest is a flaw, but at the end of the day I care about his community.”
In a contest for the seat now occupied by retiring Councilman Augusto Amador, Silva faces two other retired police officers who want the job; but only he has the backing of Amador, and only he has a wholly Ironbound-stationed police service record.
Former Police Chief Anthony Campos was good at what he did, and former Detective Louis Weber was good at what he did, the candidate said. But “I was more entrenched in the everyday concerns of this community,” explained Silva, who spent nearly 30 years handling citizens’ concerns, and the public safety challenges of the East Ward. “I served three administrations and numerous police directors and no one ever moved me [from the East],” he noted. “Those individuals had their specific jobs. My job was to make sure people felt safe walking out of their homes. That’s what I did as the community service detective here. That position and that role led me to this moment. People told me wherever I went that I knew their concerns, answering the phone when people call.” His routine duties included focusing on residents in the neighborhood housing complexes, the homeless, and the vulnerable; making sure an at-risk family had a Thanksgiving meal, or a poor child had a toy at Christmastime.
A lymphoma survivor, single father Silva, 53, has about 20-30 relatives who still live and work in this part of Newark where he grew up and now raises his son.
AN IRONBOUND LIFE
Silva’s grandparents arrived in Newark in the mid-1940’s, joining his grandparents who already had the home on Elm Street. He and his brother grew up speaking Portuguese, the sons of hard-working Catholic immigrants. Their father was a construction worker with Local 472 and his mother an employee at Western Electric and then AT&T. The father left to go to work early each morning and would come home after long hours on the job. He would put plywood between both mattresses because his back hurt. Both his parents helped other immigrants settle in the ironbound. His father was a founding member of the local Portuguese club.
“When I grew up in the neighborhood, I knew all my neighbors,” he said. “All the neighbors were our friends. That doesn’t exist as much today. My son has his friends in school, and we try to keep them busy in sports, but they come home and play video games. There’s not the connection to others that existed before. There used to be a deep connection in this community, and we used to go to the park – all of us – to play softball, box ball or whiffle ball. Our parents didn’t have that worry.”
Today, the former community service cop and his son try to do everything together, as he immerses his boy in what he knows of the deeper world they share, of family, faith and friends. Silva’s mother died last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, a major event for the ex-cop, who went from going to mass once a week to becoming a daily communicant. His mother would have never supported him running against their friend sitting Newark City Councilman Amador. The connections ran deep. His late parents came here from Murtosa, the same town in Portugal as Amador – and backed the councilman. His mother volunteered for his campaigns on Election Day. But life and death in the Ironbound drew him closer to the moment he swore he didn’t see coming this past fall when Amador announced his retirement.
“He was very good friends with my mother and father,” said Silva. “When Councilman Amador was first elected to the council in 1998, I was there at his victory party. Through the years, whenever there were concerns and issues that down here he would call me to address them; to speak to residents or business owners.” It was not only a family friendship but a strong working relationship. “I’m very grateful for his endorsement,” said the council candidate. “I think he’s done an amazing job, a great job. I always supported him. I thought he was always the best candidate year after year, the best prepared candidate and the right person for this community. I wish him the best in retirement and hopefully I can take over for him and continue the progress.”
HIS AGENDA AND THE ISSUES
The Ironbound section of Newark retains granular evidence of its Old World immigrant past, while the residents find themselves at the transformative threshold of major new development, marked, for example, by the SUW K, LLC, plan to construct a 13-story mixed-use building on 430 Market St. at the intersection of Market and Prospect streets.
Silva backs development – but with caveats.
“It’s a new day,” he told InsiderNJ. “The Portuguese are still very important here, as residents and business owners. But now we have so many other nationalities here, and we have to embrace everybody. We want everybody to come together. I want to unite this community. The last election showed us it is not as unified as it should be. When I was growing up it was the Polish, Irish, Italians, Cubans and Portuguese, and now those populations have dwindled. There are many more South Americans and other communities vital to this area, and businesses from all demographics. They have to be a part of continuing to build the East Ward into the future. Everybody has to participate in keeping the ironbound safe place.
“I don’t want development on Ferry Street,” Silva added, referring to the classic downtown business district. “The old school look makes Ferry Street aesthetically unique. I am for development. It is a positive thing for this area. The East Ward is very coveted because of all the amenities here, including easy access to major highways, as well as being a great place to eat and shop. One of the main focuses over the next four years and beyond will be development. But I will have a hard time buying into unless it benefits the community. As long as the East Ward buys into it, I’m all for it.”
As a councilman, he wants to focus on municipal services, ensuring the community is clean, and improving the residents’ quality of life. Looking ahead to the coming 2022 campaign, “I don’t have anything against my opponents,” Silva said. “I want to run a clean campaign. Issues of 20 to 30 years ago are not relevant today.”
“They call me the homeless whisperer,” Silva said, acknowledging the work he did as community service detective when not a day passed that he did he didn’t encounter a situation involving the neighborhood’s homeless population. “I believe the homeless situation is an issue that needs to be addressed. At the end of the day, there is a solution. I have attended over 100 hours of meetings on our homeless.”
He said he wants to be part of the solution.
In addition, he notes flooding crises endured by the Ironbound, and said he wants to work with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to ensure federal infrastructure dollars gets to the community to strengthen systems here. Although rival Weber – not Silva – is running on the Team Baraka ticket, “I believe this mayor is the right guy for the job,” said the candidate. “He really does care. He grew up here. He knows the concerns and issues of people. If anybody can do it I think the mayor can bring those federal dollars in here.”
He acknowledged the need for particular development projects that do not exacerbate flooding, and said – in a nod to the mayor’s inclusionary zoning rules – that developers should have the option to build affordable housing onsite or paying into a fund to build it elsewhere.
Silva insisted on his desire to work with the mayor to better the East Ward.
“I believe we respect one another and we want what’s best for the city,” said the candidate. “When I met with the mayor we discussed that inevitably we would have disagreements, but we both agreed that neither of us would walk away from the table without coming to solutions. Power at City Hall resides on the second floor with the mayor, and I am looking forward to an amazing relationship.”
THE ROOTS OF SERVICE
Silva proudly welcomed Amador’s endorsement.
It meant so much more than merely words of support.
It contains a world of support, in the truest sense, for a native immigrant son like Silva.
He found himself “humbled, blessed and honored” at a fundraiser toward his candidacy attended by the sitting councilman and others – friends he has known for a lifetime, who knew his parents. As he prepares for full immersion in a political campaign, he reflects with emotion on the memories, and takes heart from both those enduring members of his own family and those no longer here who worked to get him here. The daily communicant from Elm Street said he always slept well as a cop, knowing he did the best he could for his community then, and like Amador before him, if he should get elected, intends to sleep well as a councilman on a record of hard work and dedication to his fellow citizens.
“I’m humbled that I’m even thought of for a position like this,” Silva said.