By Steve Sears
First, Varano does not consider himself a politician, but someone who, if he can help in even the humblest, tiniest way, he’s in. “This is not defining me. I have a family, a full-time job – I work in Manhattan. And so far, so good. It’s been a year and a half; I’ve learned so much. I’m doing what I’m doing today because I thought it was the right time to help, and I thought I could add value. When I stop feeling that way, I don’t have an issue stepping down, and I don’t have an issue not running again.”
Then there’s the even more personal stuff. Varano and his family moved from Clifton to Wayne in 1992 when he was 14 years old, right at a time when he would start high school and start school in a new town and have to make new friends. The transition went smoothly, but the nicest thing about it was not that Varano became a successful Wayne Valley High School athlete and senior class President (“My political career, if you will, started kind of early,” he states with a chuckle), but that he became friends with a girl named Jennifer in his freshman year, remained friends with her for the next few years, and then started dating her during his senior year, and both are now married and have three children, Christian (12), Peter (10), and Mia (7).
“We were high school sweethearts,” says Varano of he and his wife (who is an Assistant in the Wayne school system). Call it syrupy stuff maybe, but just that alone tells you this is going to be good.
Varano was elected to the Town Council in 2017, and currently is also a member of the Wayne Planning Board. “Wayne is a huge town – 55,000 residents, 26 or 27 square miles – we have so many different moving parts from Willowbrook Mall to the New Jersey Transit centers, we have three high schools, lots of industry, we have a flood zone section that is problematic at times, and that needs a lot of thought and consideration. So, there’s a lot going on,” he states.
After high school, Varano attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, where he graduated from Rutgers Business School in 2000 with a degree in Finance. He immediately went to work for the now defunct investment bank Lehman Brothers, and he worked there for almost 10 years until becoming part of the company’s end-of-days layoffs. “That was an interesting time in my life, too,” he says. “If I’m thinking of these few moments – like moving to Wayne, not knowing anyone – the next could’ve been when I lost my job for the first time. I was out of work, it was obviously a pretty bad time for the economy, there was a big recession, my wife and me had just had a newborn – a 1-year-old child at the time, my first – I was out of work for like six months. That was a little soul searching. I was always interested in the financial market, was always interest in finance in general, but at that point I did seriously consider a career change because the industry was in shambles and it was very difficult to find employment at the time.”
Varano fortunately landed on his feet, being hired in 2008 by Interactive Data, the company in his words having “gone through several different iterations.” The parent company now is Intercontinental Exchange, a financial conglomerate that owns several different business lines. “From a work standpoint, it’s been really, really good. I’ve had some good work experiences, learned a lot.” He currently works with a team that’s responsible for product innovation and new development and has served as Director of Market Research and Strategy since 2016.
Though he held top office in his high school, Varano really had no future political aspirations beyond Wayne Valley’s halls. While at Rutgers, he didn’t study Political Science, never ran for office. But returning to Wayne and starting his young family, there was a desire to help out, somewhere. That desire found him. Meeting a Board of Trustee member of the Wayne Public Library segued him into active participation. “I was asked if I’d be interested in becoming a trustee for the library,” he recalls. “I was sort of told that my background in finance would be a good addition to the current Board of Trustees. There was change underfoot in how libraries operated, what a library used to mean to a community, what it means now, and a lot of that had to do with digitization, e-readers, internet…there was less of a need for shelves and shelves and aisles and aisles of books in reference, because with a click of the button you could get lots of the information online.” Varano agreed to take on the role in 2012 but didn’t view it from a political standpoint. It was all about helping and involvement, and the fact that his children were getting older and were using the library offered a further nudge. He served from 2012 to 2017, the last two years as Board President. One of his prime initiative efforts was a fundraising endeavor to augment any tightness in the library’s financial budget at the time and raise awareness of the benefit of the library to the public. “To re-educate the public about what the library should mean to them,” is how he puts it, including embracing the past, but moving forward into the future. “They (the library) were really doing great things, and I don’t think it was evident to everyone out there. Again, part fundraising, part awareness, and changing perception.” Fundraising brought in roughly $50,000 through various events, including a he 95th anniversary celebration, books signings (Mary Higgins Clark, Paul Sorvino), and more. A key note here was that the events were held in the library, not elsewhere. “We wanted people to come back there, to see it, and there were folks who hadn’t been to the library in 10 years!” he says. The library also started a 501c3, the Wayne Free Public Library Foundation, which is still active. “I think we really accomplished a lot, and a lot of that momentum is still moving forward.”
“That was a great experience, too.”
Varano’s next stop was just a door away: Town Hall. “We’re (the library) very symbiotic with the Township, so I really got to know a lot of people on the township side by being involved with the library, and that includes council members, that included the Mayor, Chris Vergano, his administrators, up and down the line from business administrators to IT department to personnel. It was great, because I was able to make those connections and meet those folks, not intending to do anything, but by nature of being involved with the library, I got to know a lot of these people.“ During the election of 2017, he was asked by Vergano to join his ticket as a candidate for Council-at-Large. He conferred with his family and close friends, digested the request and their feedback, and determined that it was his next step. “My wife was supportive, which was great, because it does mean significant time away from the family, nights out of the house at meetings. If I wanted to do it, she would back me up on it. I decided to give it a go.”
It has been a true learning experience, but one that Varano has embraced. “I feel like I’m a fairly competent, intelligent person, I don’t have my head in the sand, but before I was involved at the Council level, I had no idea the complexities, the problems. A lot of it just happens behind the scenes, and I think that’s a testament to how well Wayne is run.” Planning Board involvement has as well aided him in viewing both the resident and governance side of issues. “On one hand, it’s another meeting that I have to attend every other week, but what you get exposed to and what you get involved with is so important. A lot of that has to do with development that is happening or being proposed, negotiated. The residential stuff is obviously very important from our resident’s standpoint – quality of life and what not – that has its own merits and nuances, and it’s important on that level. Then the commercial side is equally if not more important sometimes because of the ratables that it brings to town and the ability of commercial properties to alleviate some of the tax burdens to the residents.”
“From what I see, I’m very impressed.”
Summing his current roles as he serves the Township of Wayne, Dave Varano finds the experience valuable. “From my own growth as a person and as an individual, I really appreciate getting exposed to some of these things and just learning it, gaining appreciation for what it takes to make a town like Wayne run.”