Dr. David Frost, a peace activist who sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in New Jersey in 1966 and then ran as comedian Dick Gregory’s vice presidential candidate on the Peace and Freedom ticket in 1968, died on September 28. He was 96.
Frost died at his home in Plainfield surrounded by his two children and a physician after availing himself of New Jersey’s Medical Aide in Dying law passed in 2019.
A biologist and former Rutgers professor, Frost was a leading advocate of civil rights and social justice issues. He served as vice president of the Plainfield chapter of the NAACP in the early 1960s and as NJ SANE president from 1954 to 1965. He served as co-chairman of the Committee to Evaluate Civil Defense in New Jersey, and on the Plainfield Shade Tree Commission.
The New Jersey Democratic Council, a grassroots group that opposed the war in Vietnam, chose Frost as their candidate for the United States Senate in 1966 after a raucous convention that included a shoving match and a walkout of some delegates. Frost defeated Clarence Coggins, a Newark peace activist, by a vote of 70 to 28; Coggins later became a top New Jersey political consultant who worked for Newark Mayor Kenneth Gibson and Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Democratic party leaders picked Warren Wilentz, a former Middlesex County Prosecutor and County Counsel, as their candidate to take on two-term Republican U.S. Senator Clifford P. Case. He was the son of one of New Jersey’s most powerful party bosses, David Wilentz, and the brother of Robert Wilentz, a future chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Wilentz defeated Frost in the September Democratic primary by 166,139 votes, 72.7%-11.5%. John Winberry, an anti-sales tax Democrat from Clifton, finished third with 7.3%, followed by Coggins (6.2%) and Jerry Charles Burmeister (2.3%). Case won the general election by 490,822 votes, 60%-37%.
Gregory, a popular stand-up comic and civil rights leader, mounted a largely quixotic campaign for the presidency in 1968. He was on the ballot in seven states, including New Jersey, where Frost was his running mate; pediatrician Benjamin Spock ran with him in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Frost campaigned primarily on college campuses across the state.
Gregory and Frost received 8,084 votes in New Jersey and Gregory won 47,097 votes nationally.
Born David Feivlowitz in Brooklyn in 1925, he changed his name to Frost to avoid quotas placed on the number of Jewish students a college would accept. He earned masters and doctorate degrees in biology from New York University and taught at City College of New York before moving to Plainfield in 1959. He taught at Rutgers from 1952 to 1978 and worked for the Squibb Institute for Medical Research from 1959 to 1975.
Predeceased by his wife of 48 years, Ruth, in 1994, Frost is survived by his two children, four grandchildren, and three great-grandsons.