By Jillian Risberg
Councilman Franco Mazzei’s passionate dedication to the law dates back to his high school days at Union Prep in Wayne, where he pledged to become an attorney.
“I’ve been a defense attorney, now I’m a plaintiff’s attorney. In between I worked in house with an insurance company,” Mazzei says. “I don’t practice criminal law, only civil litigation — but I’ve had the different perspectives on the law and I’ve seen the process work.”
The councilman believes we have the best legal system out there. He loves being able to help people with their rights and claims under the law and the process of adjudication.
He had a solid foundation for his legal aspirations, receiving both his law degree and undergrad education at Villanova University.
“I interned junior year with Sweeney Sheehan & Spencer in Philadelphia and was actually second chairing and assisting in trial preparation as an undergraduate,” Mazzei says.
According to the councilman, the rapport and relationships he developed were so strong that his appreciation for the law and litigation soon blossomed and they hired him beyond his internship.
“I stayed there through law school and ultimately practiced there for the first five years of my career until I came back to New Jersey and I’ve been practicing in New Jersey ever since,” Mazzei says.
He’s always been in litigation; focusing on personal injury, catastrophic, and employment law.
“My journey here in the Third Ward in Wayne was quite interesting,” Mazzei says. “It all started on the Library Board.”
“I met then Councilman Jerry Porter,” Mazzei says. “Jerry was just a phenomenal councilman, individual, gentleman — and he kind of inspired me to become involved in the community. Mayor Ramada appointed me to the Library Board.”
“From there I got to meet so many other individuals; I became very vocal within the Library Board, became very active and became its president soon after, probably within the first couple of years.”
Ellen Musto is neighbors and good friends with the Porter’s and the Vergano’s (Mayor Chris).
“It must have been 10 or 12 years ago, Jerry Porter ran into me and said, ‘there’s someone you really have to meet named Franco Mazzei, he’s a great guy and really wants to get involved in the area,” Musto says. “Chris Vergano said pretty much the same thing.”
The longtime Wayne resident eventually crossed paths with the councilman.
“I was so impressed from the day I first met him and got to know him,” says Musto. “What impressed me about Franco is that he is a powerhouse but with so much soul.”
Mazzei served as president of the Wayne Public Library Board of Trustees.
“By 2009 I decided to run for the Board of Education,” Mazzei says. “There was a perfect kind of synergy there because there was a lot of overlap between the Library Board and the Board of Education in that the library did a lot of activities with the Board of Ed; there was a liaison from the Board of Ed that sat on the board of the library.”
He served the dual role of simultaneously working on the Board of Ed and the board of the library before his first child was born in 2006.
“I was the president of the Library Board, served there and was also on the Board of Education. In my second year I became the vice president of the Board of Education and I was happy to serve in that capacity,” Mazzei says.
He called Passaic County home in those early years and grew up in Little Falls.
The councilman moved to Wayne in 2005, when he and his wife purchased and built their first home.
“We were married in 2004 and rented in Little Falls until our home was completed and then came into Packanack Lake,” Mazzei says. “I proposed on Packanack Lake, not knowing we would ultimately live on Packanack Lake.”
They were excited to move in; the couple didn’t have children at the time.
Mazzei was also busy with the Packanack Lake Community Association, sitting on the Board of Governors.
Marilyn Ludwig, a longtime Wayne resident who knows the councilman mostly through his service to Packanack Lake calls him a good person and a great representative of the township and area.
“Always helpful to people when they need him, very responsive and I have a lot of respect for him,” Ludwig says.
When Jerry Porter could no longer hold office, Mazzei, who was active on many fronts — stepped in and ran for town council.
“He’s done an amazing job with that,” Musto says. “This is who he is and what I so respect and admire about him. He just really gives himself to the community and makes time to better everything.”
She says Mazzei has a strong sense of serving and doing the right thing.
“And making sure that he holds high standards for himself and high standards for everyone around him,” Musto says.
“And I’ve seen it,” she says. “No matter how things might have gone in different political campaigns, I’ve never heard him stoop low, there’s never been gossip, never had anything malicious come out of him; he’s just so intelligent and calm and together.”
Mazzei had a successful first run for council and took office January 1, 2012.
And the councilman says he couldn’t do it all without the constant encouragement of his family, wife Michele and their three boys; Luke 12, Michael, 10 and Jon, five.
“She is a phenomenal support and the bedrock of our family. To be honest with you she is quite used to it,” Mazzei says of his wife’s understanding of the commitment and time required to be a litigator because her father, W. Joseph Weiner, was one.
“We make it work,” he says. “I manage my schedule, meet with residents, (handle) various committees, I’m currently the council president.”
Musto echoes that sentiment, adding that with how busy Mazzei is, including his high-powered job as an attorney — nothing and nobody is short-changed.
In fact it’s his eighth year on the council and his second time as council president.
He currently manages the law firm of Weiner, Mazzei LLC. Mr. Weiner sat on the Board of Education and also served at night as a municipal judge in West Paterson as Michele Mazzei was growing up.
The bar association is a pivotal part of the legal system and the councilman has been very involved with the Passaic County Bar Association, serving as Chair of the PCBA Civil Section since 2010.
“Not only did I become a trustee of the bar association, which I was honored and privileged to serve but I was ultimately elected to become a secretary, treasurer, vice president, president elect,” Mazzei says. “In 2017 to July 2018 I was elected to serve as its president, which was an incredible honor to have the attorneys of Passaic County recognize a resident of Wayne to lead it.”
Acknowledging the accomplishment, the councilman says it was surreal when the Wayne Public Library honored him as their ‘Man of the Year’ in April 2017.
“So literally I have all my friends and family at the library at this gala event and then two weeks later I’m getting inducted as the bar president,” Mazzei says. “As soon as my year is over as the bar president, the council’s ready to unanimously vote me as its president — so it’s like a whirlwind tour.”
Musto says there are political characters and politicians in the area that are really out for where they can go politically.
“But what I see with (Chris) and what I see with Franco is nothing they do seems to be politically motivated, though it might be a political type position,” she says. “It’s just public servitude at its best.”
According to the councilman, the Passaic County Courthouse in Paterson recently launched attorney composites of the entire bench and all the sitting judges and trustees.
Mazzei loves being included among them.
“You’ll see composites from the 30s, the 50s, the 90s. It’s such an undertaking because there’s only about maybe 120 trustees and that’s typically who are photographed,” he says.
“The humbling part is my face is there so if my kids walk into this courthouse years from now, they’ll forever see the 2017-2018 composite. I don’t care about it being about me, I was just very proud to represent the residents of Wayne.”
He has also had the honor of serving as president of the Passaic County-based Robert L. Clifford Inn of Court, presenting programs and lectures on civil litigation and practice.
Mazzei is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a civil trial attorney.
As he has the best interests of his law clients, he is also always there to speak up for the residents of the Third Ward as council president.
“I am their voice on the council in the workings of the township, to work with the administration, to work with the mayor,” Mazzei says.
The councilman does his very best to represent his constituents after he’s seen to the needs of the city as a whole.
Ludwig says that Mazzei genuinely cares.
“I’ve had people that I know needed to reach him about something council related and he was very quick to say, ‘give them my cellphone number, tell ‘em to reach out; I’d be happy to talk to them,’’’ she says. “There’s no hesitation there.”
“If a friend needs him and says, ‘Hey Franco, could you help me with something,’ everything stops,” adds Musto.
At the end of the day, how does Mazzei express his love for the township of Wayne?
“It starts and rests with the community,” the councilman says. “And how I define community are the people, the people, the people. Our opportunities to introduce ourselves to ourselves to highlight those people that we already know; our residents that are heroes, our children, our first responders, our volunteers, our neighbors, that’s what makes our community so special.”
According to Ludwig, she can’t say enough about Mazzei.
“He’s a good person, great family, nice kids,” she says.
Musto says the councilman is a positive person with a quiet confidence.
“I’ve never seen Franco without a smile on his face,” she says. “There’s a wonderful personality there and despite all of his achievements he remains humble when praised.”
And the residents should know they always have a champion on their side in Mazzei if they want to speak up during the public portion of the council meetings.
“Regardless of what ward they’re from, they share their experiences and their thoughts, suggestions and criticisms,” he says.
The meetings are conducive to getting their concerns addressed.
“We may agree, we may not agree — but I’m learning everyday — to either strengthen our positions or develop new positions,” he says. “I think that’s what makes our council work. It’s been a phenomenal eight years.”