Longtime Camden activist Frank Fulbrook dies

Pointing to map of Camden with colored pins marking drug activity, longtime activist Frank Fulbrook (cq) give his drug policy forum at Rutgers-Camden Mar. 9, 2006. He had invited Government officials to debate him on the pros and cons of drug legalization but none would show. (Tom Gralish / Inquirer) EDITORS NOTE: JDRUGS10bTG -80725 w/Dwight Ott story: Fulbrook has long championed legalization of drugs as way to fight high crime and neighborhood blight. Fulbrook claims that drugs are the elephant in the room causing homicides, violence and neighborhood deterioration. But he says no one wants to talk about it. But lately even Camden law enforcement officials officials battling crime in Camden have been conceding that they can't "arrest themselves out of Camden's crime." One high ranking official told Fulbrook in an elevator that he thought legalization was the only way. A veteran detective said recently that there was no serious crime in Camden that was not drug related.
Pointing to map of Camden with colored pins marking drug activity, longtime activist Frank Fulbrook (cq) give his drug policy forum at Rutgers-Camden Mar. 9, 2006. He had invited Government officials to debate him on the pros and cons of drug legalization but none would show. (Tom Gralish / Inquirer) EDITORS NOTE: JDRUGS10bTG -80725 w/Dwight Ott story: Fulbrook has long championed legalization of drugs as way to fight high crime and neighborhood blight. Fulbrook claims that drugs are the elephant in the room causing homicides, violence and neighborhood deterioration. But he says no one wants to talk about it. But lately even Camden law enforcement officials officials battling crime in Camden have been conceding that they can't "arrest themselves out of Camden's crime." One high ranking official told Fulbrook in an elevator that he thought legalization was the only way. A veteran detective said recently that there was no serious crime in Camden that was not drug related. (INQUIRER GRALISH)
Posted: August 29, 2013

One of Camden's most relentless civic activists, Frank Fulbrook, 64, died Tuesday at Cooper University Hospital after fighting a lung infection for the last year. He was still pursuing a court battle against the city over its recent imposition of a business curfew.

"Camden lost one of its most dedicated and committed advocates," said Mayor Dana L. Redd, often one of Mr. Fulbrook's adversaries. "He always fought for what he believed was in the best interest for Camden residents and businesses."

Distinguishable by his long gray hair tied in a pony tail, jeans, and flannel shirt, Mr. Fulbrook pressed the city on issues and causes he believed in, often in court. The longtime Cooper Grant neighborhood resident ran unsuccessfully several times for mayor and City Council.

In addition to the city curfew, Mr. Fulbrook's recent battles included one for a referendum seeking nonpartisan elections and one to legalize medical marijuana and open a dispensary in Camden.

A civic watchdog, Mr. Fulbrook always walked from his Cooper Grant home - where he kept copies of the city's master plans, zoning maps, and the dozens of lawsuits he filed over the years - to City Hall for Council and other municipal meetings.

"Whether one agreed with his position on certain issues or not, his passion for Camden and commitment to this city was unquestionable and undeniable," City Council President Frank Moran said in a statement. "His passion and true grit were only matched by his intellectual capacity."

Mr. Fulbrook lived in Williamstown for his first five years. At age 5, he moved with his family to Morse Street in East Camden and never left the city. He graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School and attended Rutgers University-Camden, where he was a member of Tau Epsilon Phi Fraternity.

A lifelong bachelor who never had children, Mr. Fulbrook once worked as a paper handler for Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. He eventually moved to the Cooper Grant neighborhood and bought two houses and a parking lot, which he rented to students.

Mr. Fulbrook cofounded the Cooper-Grant Neighborhood Association and is credited with helping to spur that community's resurgence.

Former Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. came to live in Cooper Grant because of Mr. Fulbrook's insistence that the neighborhood was on the verge of a turnaround. Roberts had no regrets moving there, even if it meant late-night chats with Mr. Fulbrook.

"I remember nights where I'd be leaving Trenton . . . I'd have a couple bags of food from the supermarket and some clean shirts from the cleaner, and I just wanted to go home and crash, and Frank would be there, and we'd talk," Roberts said Tuesday.

Roberts called Mr. Fulbrook "a full-time professional citizen who did it for the right reasons and had a real profound impact."

Ali Sloan-El, a former city councilman, met Mr. Fulbrook in the early 1980s, when both were entering politics.

"He was a one-man show," Sloan-El said. "I had the army; Frank always had the mind-set."

Sloan-El, who adopted the nickname "the People's Champ," said that he had a following of people but that it was not until he teamed up with Mr. Fulbrook that they were able to make things happen.

"When Frank gets together with people, he is unbeatable," Sloan-El said, pointing to Mr. Fulbrook's victories, including getting nonpartisan elections in the early 1990s and beating the city's previous attempts at enacting a business curfew.

Though he did not have a law degree, Mr. Fulbrook had schooled himself in writing legal briefs and filing his lawsuits on his own.

Most of Mr. Fulbrook's legal fights were paid for with his "personal money and personal time," Sloan-El said. Mr. Fulbrook's income came from renting the three properties he owned next to the Rutgers-Camden campus on Penn Street.

A fount of institutional knowledge, Mr. Fulbrook would stay on the phone for what seemed like eternity with reporters, residents, or anyone who called him, and discuss the history of any particular issue or topic.

A 1981 City Council meeting that included a vigorous debate on a proposed ordinance on rent control led to his activism, he told The Inquirer in 1997.

"It clicked," he said. "I knew I had found my life's work: local government. I felt I had something to contribute."

A former vice chairman of the city Zoning Board of Adjustment, Mr. Fulbrook served on various city boards, including those of the Empowerment Zone and the now-defunct Camden City Library.

Before becoming ill in 2012, Mr. Fulbrook was present at nearly every civic meeting. He always carried a thick folder with papers related to the meeting, as well as a calendar with times for every open government meeting that month.

"He is an angel," said Ilan Zaken, former owner of the Sears building, which Mr. Fulbrook fought for many years to preserve. "He cared for the people more than anything, a very honest, very straightforward man."

The last pillar of the Sears building on Admiral Wilson Boulevard was knocked down last week to make room for an office park.

Mr. Fulbrook is survived by his mother, Bobbie Simon; a brother, Jim; and an aunt, Irene Banks.

Funeral arrangements were pending.


Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917, cvargas@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," on www.inquirer.com/camden_flow

Staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.

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