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A.D. Mazzone, judge who led harbor effort, dies at age 76

US District Judge A. David Mazzone oversaw the cleanup of Boston Harbor with strength and patience, despite rising water bills and detractors who called him the ''Sludge Judge."

''He was the man who held everyone's feet to the fire, even when there was a ratepayers' revolt and powerful interests were seeking delays," Vivien Li, executive director of Boston Harbor Associates, said yesterday.

Judge Mazzone, 76, died Monday in his Wakefield home of complications of cancer.

A beloved figure who favored bow ties, Judge Mazzone was on familiar terms with everyone from the custodians to the clerk magistrates.

''He was a regular guy who never forgot why he was a judge, or whose power he was exercising, " Bruce Berman, a spokesman for the advocacy group Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, said yesterday.

The lanky justice, who once played tight end on the Harvard College football team, sat on the federal bench for 26 years. He barred highway construction near the Quabbin Reservoir after the quality of Boston's drinking water declined, and halted the sale of oil drilling leases on Georges Bank after finding that the secretary of the Interior had failed to comply with required procedures.

But, ''he will forever be remembered by the people of Massachusetts for his landmark rulings that led to the cleanup of Boston Harbor," US Senator Edward M. Kennedy said yesterday.

''He had great courage in standing up to very powerful interests," said Li.

In the early 1980s, the Conservation Law Foundation and the City of Quincy sued the regional Metropolitan District Commission, saying it violated clean water statutes because its antiquated sewage treatment plant on Deer Island was dumping hundreds of tons of black sludge into the harbor daily. The US Environmental Protection Agency later joined the suit.

Judge Mazzone ruled the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which took over the water and sewage systems, in ''chronic, flagrant violation" of federal law, and ordered it to set deadlines for a cleanup. He oversaw the case himself, rather than appointing a special master as judges often do in long-running cases.

''There are people who say things, then there are people who do things," said Judge Mazzone in a story published in the Globe in 2002.

The harbor was in such bad shape at the start of the suit that President George H.W. Bush, during his 1988 campaign against Governor Michael S. Dukakis, called it ''the filthiest harbor in America."

Chief US District Judge William Young said Judge Mazzone would often visit the workers at Deer Island to check up on their progress. ''Nice to see all of you defendants this morning," Judge Mazzone would joke to the surprised crew.

The son of Italian immigrants, Armando David Mazzone was born in Everett. A tall man nicknamed ''Stretch" in his youth, he was star tight end on the Everett High School football team.

He married Eleanor Stewart, a Californian whom he met while she was attending Wellesley College.

After graduating from Harvard in 1950, he became a supervisor in a steel mill in Chicago.

''We decided to settle halfway between both families," Judge Mazzone said in a story published in the Globe in 1984.

After serving in the Army for two years during the Korean War, he returned to the steel mill and enrolled at DePaul University Law School. ''I went to school days when I worked the nights," he said. ''And when I worked the day shift, I picked up the other courses at night."

After law school he opened a small law office in Chicago, but, he said, ''the tug of Massachusetts and everything that is nice about Boston was too strong."

He soon returned and spent two years on the staff of Middlesex District Attorney John Droney and four years as assistant US attorney under Arthur W. Garrity Jr.

He was in private practice for about 10 years before he was appointed to the Superior Court by Dukakis in 1974. Three years later he was nominated to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter on the recommendation of Kennedy.

''I'm glad he got a steady job," his 89-year-old father said when he got the appointment.

Judge Mazzone ''had an enormous sense of humor and a graciousness that knew no bounds," said Young.

Berman, of Save the Harbor, said Judge Mazzone was a consensus builder who preferred to persuade people to do the right thing, rather than order them to.

''His legacy is not just water that is cleaner, but a city that has reconnected to its harbor," said Berman.

Judge Mazzone, who oversaw the case until his death, told the Globe in 2000 that he had only one regret: allowing the federal government to avoid paying part of the cleanup, which meant that ratepayers had to pick up the entire tab.

Though he oversaw the case for more than 20 years, he always considered it a work in progress.

''I'm kind of proud of [the cleanup], but take it easy on me. We're not done yet," Judge Mazzone said in a rare interview. ''Maybe someday there'll be something on my gravestone that says something about it. But we're not done."

In addition to his wife, Judge Mazzone leaves three sons, Andrew D. of Cambridge, John S. of Providence, and Robert J. of Darien, Conn.; four daughters, Margaret C. of Nashville, Jan E. of Williston, Vt., Martha A. of Boston, and Carolyn C. of Wakefield; two sisters, Maria M. Alimena of Rye, N.Y., and Flora M. Joyce of Dorchester; and nine grandchildren.

A memorial Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Friday in St. Joseph's Church in Wakefield. Burial is private. 

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