Home>Campaigns>As a student council candidate in 1973, Applefield took a challenge all the way to the Supreme Court

As a student council candidate in 1973, Applefield took a challenge all the way to the Supreme Court

The incumbent he wanted to unseat this year, Republican Chris Smith, helped Applefield family cut through government red tape so they can hold a funeral

By David Wildstein, July 18 2020 4:37 pm


David Applefield had run for office at least three times before mounting a bid for the Democratic nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 4th district.

One was in 1970, when he was elected student council president at Mount Pleasant Junior High School in Livingston.

Unlike others, David and I really didn’t know each other from our Livingston days.  We spoke for the first time soon after he decided to run for Congress.

David Applefield at the Bar-Mitzvah of his childhood friend, WNBC-TV sports anchor Bruce Beck, in 1969.

The elementary school I attended was connected to the junior high and I had a vague recollection of his campaign signs with hand-drawn apples, not dissimilar from the logo he used in his congressional campaign a few years later.

We joked about that in one of our telephone conversations.

“Faire du neuf avec du vieux,” he said.  “What’s old is new again.”  It was one of the few lines in French that I understand.

The story of David’s second campaign was told to me on Friday by one of his oldest friends.

David’s family had moved to Canada as a teenager and in 1973, at age 17, he ran for student council president at York Mills Collegiate Institute in Toronto. At the time, he was an 11th grader and serving as student council vice president.

The school had a spending cap of $20 for student council elections and David was disqualified as a candidate after being accused of spending $23.80.

The story went national and David vehemently denied spending more than $20, newspaper accounts of the incident show.

David said he convinced local businesses to sell him materials to make buttons, posters and stickers at a discount.  He produced “invoices, receipts and statements from storekeepers to prove it.”

After the school principal, Gerald Killam, refused to get involved in settling the dispute, David worked his way up the chain of appeals.  He appealed to school board members, Canadian Education Minister Thomas Wells, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and informally, to the Supreme Court of Canada.

While David continued to fight the injustice of his disqualification, Killam had sealed the election results.

Killam wound up backing down and the student council election committee announced that Scott McDougall had beaten David, rendering the appeal moot.

After that, Applefield put his political career on hold and became a journalist.  By 1978, he had become the Opinion Editor of the Amherst College student newspaper.

One of his closest friends told me that David had always wanted to run for Congress, and his recent campaign fulfilled one of his lifetime ambitions.

David Applefield died of an apparent heart attack on July 8, one day after finishing third in the Democratic primary.  He was 64.

His family wanted to bury him in France, where he had lived the life of a politically aware expat for decades while working as a journalist and author.

The Applefield family, needing help to transport David’s remains back to France for a July 17 burial, wound up turning to the 20-term Republican congressman David was trying to unseat, Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton).

David’s friend said that Smith helped the family cut through an enormous amount of bureaucratic red tape to ensure that the funeral services took place on time.

Smith’s office wouldn’t comment on their involvement, but the New Jersey Globe has learned that the congressman made the necessary phone calls himself.  That’s an unusual display of bi-partisanship, especially these days.

Hands-on constituent service has always been one of Smith’s strengths and that has helped him hold the seat nineteen times, some of them in hugely competitive races.

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