C. David Sparks, an enormously popular vote-getter who served for 18 years on the Salem County Board of Freeholders, died on January 16 of complications related to a heart bypass surgery and valve surgery. He was 74.
He had returned to public office last year, winning a seat on the Carneys Point Township Committee. He took office on January 4.
Sparks came from a prominent political family. His father, C. David Sparks, Sr., had served as mayor of Carneys Point and as a Salem County Freeholder from 1973 to 1979. His grandfather, Earl Davidson, had also served as a freeholder in the 1930s.
He began his political career in 1984 with his election to local office in Carneys Point. Sparks was the top vote-getter in that race with 1,722 votes. The other seat was won by Democrat Joseph Hornblower, who finished 8 votes ahead of his running mate, James Rodden. The other Republican candidate, John Allen, finished fourth with 1,551 votes.
A Republican, Sparks was elected Freeholder in 1987 on a ticket with GOP incumbents Joseph Dyer and Albert Graham. Dyer was seeking his 7th term and Graham was a candidate for a second term.
The Democratic candidates were former Assemblyman Thomas Pankok, former Carneys Point Mayor Ralph DiVito and Pittsgrove Tax Collector Leah Hopkins.
Pankok was seeking a political comeback. He had served as a freeholder for 17 years before winning a State Assembly seat in 1981. He lost his seat in the 1985 Tom Kean landslide to Republicans Jack Collins and Gary Stuhltrager.
Salem County voters split their ticket that year. Pankok was the top vote-getter, followed by Dyer, but Sparks won the third seat by about 200 votes over Graham.
He was re-elected in 1990 on a ticket with freeholder ticket with Gilda Gill and Herbert Strong. Republicans held all three seats to keep their 4-3 control of the freeholder board, with Sparks running about 1,300 votes ahead of the top Democratic vote-getter, James Gallagher.
Republicans held their three seats again in 1993. Sparks was the top vote-getter on the ticket, received more around 3,500 votes more than the strongest Democratic challenger, DiVito.
In 1996, he ran first again, wining by about 2,200 votes. Republicans won two of three seats that year, with Democrat Charles Sullivan winning by around 300 votes.
Sparks received the most votes in 1999 in a race where Sullivan won the third seat by about 50 votes against Republican George Reed. Sparks ran over 1,000 votes ahead of Sullivan.
His 2002 re-election win was by around 700 votes over Democrat Blanch Hogate. Democrats captured the other two seats.
Sparks’ seventh and last freeholder campaign came in 2005. He lost by one vote, 9,783 to 9,782, to Sullivan, his longtime colleague. Democratic Freeholder Bruce Lee Bobbitt and running mate David Lindenmuth the other two seats.
In 2020, Sparks defeated Democrat Charles Newton for a township committee seat by 63 votes.
Republicans will pick an interim replacement for Sparks. His death will trigger a special election in November 2021 for his unexpired term.
Retired after 40 years with DuPoint Chambers Works, Sparks is survived by wife of 55 years, Carol, his three children and four grandchildren.