Frank Turney

Frank Turney, a longtime former groundskeeper and unofficial guide at Fairbanks' Clay Street Cemetery is seen in this 2017 file photo. Turney died Monday. Kevin Baird/News-Miner file photo

Frank Turney, activist and repeat candidate for public office in Fairbanks, died Monday.

Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly announced Turney's death at the Fairbanks City Council meeting Monday night.

Turney, 72, ran for office several times while living in Fairbanks, from 1982 to 2019, though he never won or intended to win. Instead, he used his candidacy to advocate for the many topics he cared about, calling himself “the conscience awareness candidate.” These included jury rights, care of Clay Street Cemetery, prisoners’ rights, the exoneration of convicted militia leader Schaeffer Cox, and the use of less-lethal weapons. He unsuccessfully ran for city mayor this year.

A somewhat controversial figure, Turney was outspoken at City Hall, whether or not he was running for office. He was often seen speaking at public meetings.

He was a member of the Clay Street Cemetery Commission. His work on the commission resulted in the replacement of many damaged or unreadable headstones.

Matherly said Turney was “a formidable person who challenged me twice for mayor and a guy who never hardly missed a meeting, ever, and always challenged us, always.”

“He really touched my heart, with how he treated that cemetery," he said. "It was amazing.”

Turney friend Nick Stepovich, owner of Soapy Smith's Pioneer Restaurant, called Turney "a radical conscience that all communities need."

"He showed that by showing up at every meeting, at every event and his constant care for downtown and the cemetery,” he said.

Turney also was outspoken outside the courthouse in defense of jury rights — so much so that he was charged with jury tampering. He displayed a banner every year on Sept. 5 to commemorate Jury Rights Day. Turney also brought a cake to City Hall every year on Dec. 15 for a reading of the Bill of Rights.

Turney’s advocacy helped lower suicide rates at Fairbanks Correctional Center by advocating for screens to be removed from cells and for prisoners to learn CPR.

Most recently, Turney worked to bring jury diversity and Batson challenges to the attention of the the Fairbanks Diversity Council and the City Council. This issue was part of a national conversation due to the Curtis Flowers case, recently ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court. Turney hoped to encourage the city to study whether its juries were as diverse as its population.

Turney arrived in Fairbanks in 1982 and immediately began shoveling snow for a living. He did this work for several individuals and businesses downtown, continuing that work this winter.

Contact staff writer Cheryl Upshaw at 459-7572 or find her on Twitter @FDNMcity.