Chester Apy, a respected maverick Republican who represented Monmouth County in the New Jersey State Assembly in the late 1960s and early 1970s and made his mark as an advocate of tax reform – including a vote in support of establishing a state income tax — died on May 30. He was 89.
In the 1960s, Apy served as co-chairman of the New Jersey Council to Abolish Capital Punishment. He spend most of his adult life as a strong opponent of the Death Penalty, and introduced legislation to abolish it during his tenure in the state legislature.
Apy began his political career in 1962 as a successful candidate for Republican County Committeeman in Little Silver. He ran on the organization line and faced Roger Coleman in a race for an open seat after Joseph Cagnasola moved to a different district.
The election ended in a tie with Apy and Coleman each receiving 98 votes. The full county committee voted to award the seat to Apy.
He formed a law firm, Abramoff, Apy and O’Hern with Daniel J. O’Hern, a Democrat who served as mayor of Red Bank, Commissioner of Environmental Protection under Gov. Brendan Byrne, and for nearly 19 years as an Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
In 1963, at age 31, he won an open seat on the Little Silver Borough Council following the retirement of Republican Robert Frederickson. Apy was the top vote-getter; he and Councilman Michael Rafferty defeated Democrats Thomas Dean and Frederic Seldenzahl by a 2-1 margin.
He was a second generation councilman; his late father, Chester Apy, Sr., had also held the post in the 1940s.
Apy was re-elected in 1966 by 307 votes against Democrat Raymond Florian, and became council president in 1967.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s One-Man, One-Vote decision, New Jersey redrew legislative districts, New Jersey held a court-ordered Constitutional Convention to figure out how to apportion legislative seats that had elected through countywide at-large elections since 1844. The convention increased the size of the legislature: Senate went from 29 members to 40 and the Assembly 60 to 80.
Monmouth was divided into two Assembly districts, 8-A and 8-B, which became known as the northern and southern districts.
Apy decided to seek the Republican nomination in 8-B, which included Aberdeen, Atlantic Highlands, Colts Neck, Eatontown, Fair Haven, Hazlet, Highlands, Holmdel, Howell, Keansburg, Keyport, Little Silver, Marlboro, Matawan, Middletown, Monmouth Beach, Shrewsbury, Oceanport, Red Bank, Rumson, Sea Bright, Shrewsbury Borough, Shrewsbury Township, and Union Beach.
The district included two incumbents: Republican Joseph Azzolina (R-Middletown), a supermarket chain owner and Middletown Republican Municipal Chairman who had been elected in 1965, and Alfred Beadleston (R-Red Bank), an eight-term lawmaker and former Assembly Speaker. Monmouth County picked up a second State Senate seat as a result of the 1967 reapportionment and Beadleston ran for the Senate.
Apy became a candidate for Beadleston’s open Assembly seat. Monmouth County Republicans gave him the organization line against several other contenders, including former congressional aide (and future Senate Minority Leader) Thomas Gagliano, former U.S. Department of State foreign service officer William Ryan, and former Howell Mayor Harry Mills.
Democrats ran former Assemblyman Patrick McGann (D-Middletown) and Matawan Mayor Walter Gehricke.
McGann had won a 1964 special election to fill the seat of Clarkson S. Fisher, who had left the legislature to take a judgeship. Boosted by the coattails of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who won Monmouth County with 61% of the vote, McCann won by over 7,000 votes against Republican Louis Aikens, the Long Branch city attorney.
McGann lost the seat in 1965. Asbury Park City Councilman James M. Coleman, Jr. (R-Asbury Park) and Azzolina won the three at-large Monmouth County Assembly seats.
Monmouth County Sheriff Paul Kiernan, the Democratic county chairman, tried to recruit Rutgers University President Mason Gross to run for the Senate. Gross, a resident of Rumson, turned him down.
1967 was Gov. Richard Hughes’ mid-term election and Republicans won control of both houses of the legislature. The Senate went from a 19-10 Democratic majority to 31-9 for Republicans, and the Democratic majority in the Assembly went from 41-19 to a 58-22 GOP control.
Azzolina was the top vote-getter with 31,187, with Apy winning the second seat with 30,790. McGann came in 5,346 votes behind Apy and Gehricke trailed his running mate by 4,257.
The Republicans carried every municipality but Hazlet, Keansburg and Sea Bright.
Apy became part of a Republican freshman class that included future Gov. Thomas Kean (R-Livingston) and Ralph Caputo (R-Newark), then a 26-year-old Republican and now a Democratic Assemblyman from Essex County.
As an assemblyman, Apy sponsored legislation to create municipal utility authorities and chaired a legislative commission that tackled a controversial subject: changes to state laws that exempted houses of worship from paying property taxes. He also led the opposition to a statewide referendum to lower the voting age to 18.
Casualty of redistricting
Apy’s burgeoning career as a legislator came to an abrupt close in 1969 when a court-ordered redrawing of the 1967 legislative map put four incumbents into one new Monmouth County Assembly district.
The New Jersey Supreme Court had ordered the new districts to be drawn by a State Apportionment Commission with Princeton University political science professor Marver Bernstein as the tiebreaker. Bernstein had used a computer to help him draw districts with populations that were closer in size.
Instead of northern and southern districts, Monmouth was divided in eastern and western districts. The eastern district was referred to as the coastal district.
Apy now shared District 5-B with Azzolina, Coleman and Aikens, who had won the District 5-A seat in 1967.
Monmouth Republicans gave the two seats to the assemblymen with the most seniority, Azzolina and Coleman. Apy and Aikens did not seek re-election to second terms; Aikens was elected Monmouth County Surrogate.
Azzolina and Coleman easily won re-election in 1969, with Republicans John Dawes, the mayor of Freehold borough, and Spring Lake Heights Mayor Joseph Robertson
The newly-elected Republican governor, William Cahill, offered Apy a position in his nascent administration. Apy had endorsed Cahill in a five-way Republican gubernatorial primary.
But Apy instead set his sights on running for Congress and sought the Republican nomination to challenge three-term Rep. James Howard (D-Wall) in 1970.
Howard had won the seat in the 1964 LBJ landslide and held it against strong GOP opponents in 1966 and 1968, but Republicans were bullish on their chances to unseat him in 1970. President Richard Nixon had won the district by ten points, 51%-41%, two years earlier.
Apy began the contest for the Monmouth Republican organization line as the front runner, but party leaders wound up becoming enthralled with William Dowd, a 26-year-old former Nixon White House staffer who had worked for two Monmouth GOP legislators and on Cahill’s campaign for governor.
Dowd won the endorsement against Apy, Ryan and Jerome U. Burke, a former one-term assemblyman from Essex County who had since moved to Little Silver. Dowd held Howard to 55% in 1970 and 53% in 1972.
Apy had an opportunity to return to public office in 1971 after redistricting and retirements opened up two opportunities.
Aikens resigned as surrogate after the State Senate confirmed Cahill’s nomination of him as a Monmouth County judge.
Reapportionment gave Monmouth County a third State Senator. (Until 1973, senators were elected at-large in countywide elections.)
The East/West alignment of Monmouth Assembly districts remained essentially the same as in 1969, but Monmouth also received a fifth Assembly seat. Puzzled by how to draw the districts, the legislature opted to create one at-large Monmouth Assembly seat and two districts with two Assembly seats each.
Azzolina ran for the new Senate seat on a slate with Beadleston and Richard Stout (R-West Allenhurst), a former Senate President who had been in the upper house since 1951. He edged out several other potential candidates, including former Assemblyman Irving Keith (R-Bradley Beach) and Freeholder Harry Larrison.
Republicans picked Gagliano to run for surrogate and Apy for a return to the State Assembly.
Cahill telegraphed his intention to nominate Coleman as the next Monmouth County Prosecutor, opening up two Assembly seats in District 5-B. The GOP picked Deal Mayor Daniel Kruman to run with Apy.
While there was little question that Apy would get one of the seats, Kruman faced a large field of Republicans who also wanted to run for the Assembly. Among those who sought party support were: Long Branch GOP Municipal Chairman Robert Mauro; Shrewsbury Mayor Robert Lawrence; Dowd and Burke; Long Branch attorney Larry Stamelman; Thomas Shebell, an attorney from Deal; and two Middletown lawyers: William Russell, a law partner of Middletown GOP leader Peter Carton, and James Minogue.
Democrats fielded a strong candidate in Eugene Bedell, the business manager for the Lathers International Union Local 346. Bedell had won a Monmouth County freeholder seat in the 1964 Democratic wave election.
Running with Bedell was Edward Carey, a teacher from Middletown whose father had been active in Hudson County politics as a councilman in Harrison.
Democrats made big gains in Cahill’s mid-term elections, picking up seven Senate seats and 19 Assembly seats.
In Monmouth’s District 5-B, Bedell was the top vote-getter with 29,492, and Apy won the second seat. He ran 1,050 votes behind Bedell and 552 ahead of Carey. Kruman polled 395 less votes than Carey.
An independent candidate, Samuel Capalbo, the 28-year-old president of the Keansburg Teachers Association, may have been the spoiler in the race. He received 1,724 votes.
Second term in Trenton
In his return to Trenton, the new Assembly Speaker, Tom Kean, named Apy as vice chairman of the Assembly Taxation Committee.
But despite campaigning against a state income tax, Apy became the lone Republican lawmaker from Monmouth County to vote for it.
Apy became a fierce opponent of proposals to build nuclear power plants near the Jersey shore. He also advocated for weekend jail terms for persons convicted of minor offenses and sentenced to 90 days or less in prison.
Citing time demands at his law firm Apy announced in early 1973 that he would not seek re-election to the Assembly. Still, before the impact of the Watergate scandal was known, he left the door opened to challenge Howard in 1974.
The decision to not seek re-election was likely a wise one for Apy. A new 11th district created in 1973 when New Jersey switched to a 40-district map no longer bound by county boundaries, went Democratic in the Watergate landslide.
Democrats Morton Salkind, the mayor of Marlboro, and Freehold Councilman Walter Kozloski, easily defeated Gagliano and Monmouth County Superintendent of Elections Robert Ferrell. Bedell wound up in the next-door 13th district, where he won a State Senate race against Azzolina.
After leaving the legislature, Apy served as Little Silver Borough Attorney from 1984 to 1994. He also served as the Shrewsbury Planning Board attorney.
As governor, Kean named Apy to serve on the New Jersey Tidelands Resource Council.
In 1994, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman nominated Apy to serve as a judge of the Workers Compensation Court. He served there until his retirement in 2005.
Apy was a graduate of Princeton University and Columbia Law School. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserves during the Korean War.
In addition to serving in local government, Apy’s father held dual jobs as both a minister and as a Wall Street broker. Ten months before the stock market crash of 1929, Apy Sr. paid $560,000 – almost $8.9 million in today’s dollars, for a seat on the U.S. Stock Exchange.
Apy is survived by his wife of 66 years, Florence, three sons and ten grandchildren.
A memorial service to celebrate Apy’s life will be held on August 7 at 2 PM at the Tower Hill Presbyterian Church in Red Bank.