NORTHFIELD, N.J. Vince Mazzeo has been to nearly 40 Bruce Springsteen concerts in Philadelphia and North Jersey.
The chorus in one of the Boss' songs, "No Surrender," played over and over in the back of his mind for the last month:
No retreat, baby, no surrender.
That lyric, he said, got him through his toughest days as he waited to see whether his slim lead in the Second District Assembly race in Atlantic County would hold.
"Because the race was so close, doubts start creeping up in your mind, but you try and stay positive," said Mazzeo, 49, as he worked the cash register Thursday at his family's grocery, B.F. Mazzeo Fruit & Produce - something he does from 6:30 a.m. to closing six days a week. He is also mayor of Northfield.
A hand recount concluded Tuesday at the Mays Landing courthouse by the Atlantic County Board of Elections gave Mazzeo, a Democrat, the razor's edge for a second time - this count by 39 votes - over Republican incumbent John Amodeo.
Amodeo had given a victory speech election night Nov. 5, apparently coming out on top by 379 votes. But Mazzeo was certified the winner by the Board of Elections two weeks later by 38 votes, after provisional ballots were counted. Then came the recount.
On Friday, attorneys for both candidates again went before Superior Court Judge Julio L. Mendez to go over 23 disputed mail-in and provisional ballots from the recount, 15 of which affect the race. Mendez allowed 12 of the 15 ballots for Mazzeo to be counted - putting him 51 votes over Amodeo.
Republican lawyer Randolph Lafferty declined to comment Friday night.
The Board of Elections will meet Monday to certify the recount results. Republicans will have 10 days from the date of certification to file an election challenge.
If the recount holds up, Mazzeo will be sworn in next month as an assemblyman and sit alongside Republican Chris A. Brown, who won reelection. They will represent the Second District, which includes Atlantic City.
Mazzeo, who turns 50 Jan. 6, was dressed last week in a green T-shirt with his store's name in red lettering as he greeted customers, made sure the produce was displayed right (he put cantaloupes on their side to make them look bigger), and worked the register like a pro.
Several customers congratulated him on the recount, including George Bassett, 72, from Linwood, a regular at B.F. Mazzeo.
"You won again," said Bassett as he extended his hand to Mazzeo, after filling his cart with olive oil and oranges. "Way to go, Mayor."
Mazzeo and his brother, Ben Jr., 52, co-own the grocery started by their father in 1959 and bearing his initials, for Benjamin Francis Mazzeo. The elder Mazzeo, 80, and wife, Ellie, 82, still help out at the store. Health issues kept both out last week.
The store had the aroma of fresh fruit and vegetables and was immaculately stocked. It has 38 employees and also sells to institutions, schools, and restaurants at the Shore. Eight B.F. Mazzeo trucks make deliveries.
"He's got the best stuff," said Maria Terpolilli, 54, of Northfield, as she chatted with Mazzeo about his parents' health. "It's like being in the Italian Market in Philadelphia."
Mazzeo said sales were $9 million last year, and he's hoping to top that a little in 2013.
When the board resumed the recount Tuesday, Mazzeo stayed only an hour. He had to call an ambulance for his father, who was having heart and leg issues, and left the courthouse at 3 p.m. to meet him at the Mainland campus of AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Pomona.
Mazzeo stayed at his father's bedside and found out that night from his own attorneys that he had won the recount. The elder Mazzeo remains hospitalized, while Ellie Mazzeo is healing at home after falling and injuring her right knee.
Mazzeo has been tending to both while running the grocery and keeping tabs on the recount.
"That's the advantage of a family business," Mazzeo said. "My family, especially my brother, has been great. We help each other out."
Since 2008, Mazzeo has been mayor of Northfield, population 8,600, where he was born and raised. He and his wife, Gerri, 49, have two grown children, Amanda, 21, and Ted, 19.
"The mayor's job is probably the toughest," he said, "because you're at the front line of your community."
He joked that the grocery was nicknamed "City Hall North," since many of his customers were also his constituents.
"They'll come in with zoning issues or questions on taxes," Mazzeo said. "Other times, they'll make an appointment with me to meet at a future date at City Hall. It's very accessible."
At a preelection candidates' roundtable in October, hosted by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, Mazzeo excused himself early to attend a Northfield council meeting.
"I am proud that in my 10 combined years as councilman and mayor, I have a perfect attendance record for council meetings," Mazzeo told the audience as he left the stage.
He said he would bring the same commitment to Trenton. He and State Sen. James Whelan (D., Atlantic) plan to share a legislative office in Northfield.
The middle class, he said, needs help with high property tax bills. That will be his priority. "We were probably lower middle class when I was growing up," he said.
Mazzeo said that until he was 11, he, Ben Jr., and oldest brother Frank, now 54, shared a bedroom in a small house next to their store. He didn't have his own room until he was 12, when the family moved to a bigger house across the street.
Through the decades, B.F. Mazzeo also expanded as business grew - it's now 10,000 square feet.
"You appreciate what you have," Mazzeo said. "If you look at the American dream as doing better than your parents, I'm fortunate to have done that.
"But you try not to forget where you come from."
Just like the Boss. Gov. Christie, however, has him beat. The Republican governor has gone to more than 130 Springsteen shows.
Joked Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak: "The new guy's not even close."
Education: Mainland Regional High School.
Glassboro State College (now Rowan) in 1986 with bachelor's degree in business administration and marketing.
Occupation: Co-owner with brother of B.F. Mazzeo Fruit &
Produce in Northfield.
Government experience: Northfield councilman (2004 to 2007); Northfield mayor (2008 to present); State Assemblyman-elect to the Second Legislative District (to be sworn in next month in Trenton if recount holds up).