By any measure, Newark native Dominick Mazzagetti (SASN ’69) has had a long and successful professional life, working as a lawyer, banker and civil servant over a 45-year career.
He started fresh out of Cornell Law School by clerking for legendary New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Joseph Weintraub. He then moved back and forth between practicing law and working as counsel and an executive at three banks. And in the early 1980s, he served as Deputy Commissioner of Banking for New Jersey Governor Tom Kean and as Acting Commissioner as well.
But while Mazzagetti’s primary passions have been law, banking and politics, he’s also been fascinated by history, especially as it pertains to New Jersey. And so, toward the end of his career Mazzagetti has been moonlighting as an amateur historian, publishing three books in the last seven years. His most recent tome, The Jersey Shore: The Past, Present and Future of a National Treasure, was released by Rutgers University Press earlier this year.
“Everything comes full circle, right? Here I am publishing history books with Rutgers University Press, of all places,” says Mazzagetti. “They have been very good to me and wonderful to work with.”
In Harmony With History
For Mazzagetti, the road to amateur historian started, of all places, at Rutgers University–Newark, but it was hardly pre-ordained.
As a young boy growing up in the Vailsburg section of Newark, Mazzagetti’s love for politics was strong, and he had known since high school that he wanted to be a lawyer. While a freshman at RU-N, he started the Republican Club and took part in protests at Rutgers–New Brunswick for more equitable funding and resources for the Newark campus. He also wrote a political column for The Observer.
Everything comes full circle, right? Here I am publishing history books with Rutgers University Press, of all places.
All the while, Mazzagetti dabbled in politics away from school as well.
In 1967 he and a Republican Club friend, Alvin Felzenberg, went out of their way to meet a young, aspiring GOP politician named Tom Kean while he ran for State Assembly. The meeting sparked a friendship that lasts to this day: Kean would go on to become governor of New Jersey, with Felzenberg as his Assistant Secretary of State and Mazzagetti serving in Banking. Felzenberg then worked for President George W. Bush and the 9/11 Commission, which Kean chaired, and wrote a biography of Kean.
But Mazzagetti also had a side passion in college.
When he arrived at RU-N as a freshman to study political science, he took a work-study job as a research assistant for History Professor Hubert Schmidt, whose work focused on New Jersey. Mazzagetti did everything from organizing Schmidt’s library to typing his manuscripts. He also helped prepare a history column that Schmidt wrote for the Hunterdon County Democrat, a weekly newspaper based in Flemington, NJ. Mazzagetti loved the job. In fact, he loved it so much, he worked with Schmidt all four years during college.
After graduating from RU-N, Mazzagetti went on to study law, as he’d always intended, and started his career. In 1986 he moved with his wife, Marianne, and two daughters to Raritan Township, NJ, for one of his jobs. Once settled, he decided to reach out to the Hunterdon County Democrat to see about resurrecting Schmidt’s weekly history column.
“I thought it would be fun to pick up that column, editing some of his old pieces for a new audience and writing new ones of my own,” says Mazzagetti. “The idea was to bring readers into the local history of the county.”
The paper agreed, and Mazzagetti published some 200 columns over five years, a move that would launch is career as an amateur historian and book author.
Among the many topics he covered was Hunterdon County’s Civil War regiments. He discovered that in one of those regiments, two soldiers had submitted weekly letters to the era’s Republican-leaning Hunterdon newspaper for publication while traveling with the Union Army.
Mazzagetti ran some of their articles as part of his column. He then took 100 of their letters and made a book out of them titled, True Jersey Blues: The Civil Way Letters of Lucien A. Voorhees and William Mackenzie Thompson, 15th Regiment, New Jersey Volunteers, published by Fairleigh Dickenson Press in 2011.
While shopping that book, Mazzagetti introduced himself to Marlie Wasserman, the longtime Director of Rutgers University Press, who ultimately referred him to Fairleigh Dickenson for True Jersey Blues but would go on to publish his second book just two years later, titled, Charles Lee, Self Before Country, about a British Army officer who defected and fought alongside General George Washington during the American War for Independence.
Surveying the Jersey Shore
Mazzagetti was now an amateur historian with his alma mater’s press behind him—outside of a busy career and family life. What would his next act be?
As he considered new topics, Wasserman suggested he apply for a New Jersey Historical Commission grant. Mazzagetti applied and received $10K for his proposal, which Rutgers University Press turned into his third book and published in June of this year, The Jersey Shore.
The work is a sweeping survey of the region’s development from colonial times to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as seen through a legal lens, which plays to Mazzagetti’s strengths and interests. There have been many books written on the shore but few cover the modern era from the 1950s onward, according to Mazzagetti, which separates his from the pack.
“I also talk about the development of the Garden State Parkway, the rise of environmentalism, the state leading on shore protection, the return of gambling, public access to the beaches and other issues,” says Mazzagetti.
In support of the book, he’s done radio interviews and speaking engagements. Meanwhile, over the years Mazzagetti has also remained active with RU-N, sitting on the School of Arts Sciences’ Dean’s Cabinet and recently joining the Honors College Advisory Board. As for whether he has another book in him now that he’s semi-retired, Mazzagetti remains elusive.
“People keep asking me if I’m writing another book and what it’s on,” he says. “I tell them I’m putting the next one off until I retire. But I imagine I’ll come up with something.”