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Chuck Turner dead at 79

Former city councilor left legacy of advocacy, activism

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Chuck Turner dead at 79
Chuck Turner addresses a crowd at a party held in his honor at encuentro 5 in Chinatown in 2011. Banner file photo (Photo: Ernesto Arroyo)

Former City Councilor Chuck Turner died last week after a long fight with cancer. Turner, who was 79, worked for decades as a community organizer in Boston and served on the City Council from 1999 to 2010.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Turner came to Boston in the 1960s to attend Harvard University. He worked as a community organizer in Lower Roxbury, helping to found the Madison Park Development Corporation.

For much of the 1970s, he worked on helping secure people of color in Boston jobs, with a particular focus on the construction industry. He founded the Boston Jobs Coalition, an organization that worked to expand access to employment for people of color in Boston.

He was widely seen as the driving force behind the city’s 1983 Boston Residents Jobs Policy ordinance, which originally mandated that half of all construction jobs on public building projects in the city go to Boston residents, that 25 percent go to blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans and that 10 percent go to women.

The approach enshrined in the ordinance — seeking a greater share of jobs for not only African Americans, but for Bostonians of all racial backgrounds and for women — encapsulated Turner’s inclusive approach to social change.

His laser focus on jobs persisted through his time in City Hall and beyond, as he worked with formerly incarcerated people and those long out of the job market to help them secure employment in the building trades.

In 2008, Turner was indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of taking a bribe in a case that many of his supporters and a few of his adversaries said was unfair. Turner was approached in 2007 by a confidential informant working for the FBI, who was seeking a liquor license for a nightclub. The informant, Ron Wilburn, told Turner he wanted to hold a campaign fundraiser for him. Meeting in Turner’s Roxbury office, Wilburn videotaped Turner as he handed the city councilor what appeared to be a wad of bills he later testified amounted to $1,000.

The informant never testified that he asked Turner for a favor connected to the cash. Nevertheless, what some said should have been charged as an unrecorded campaign contribution resulting in a fine at worst was prosecuted as a bribe. In 2011, Turner was sentenced to three years in a federal prison.

Upon his release in 2014, Turner returned to his Roxbury home and continued organizing on behalf of local residents. In one of his last campaigns, Turner assisted a coalition with a ballot question that successfully sought to change the name of Dudley Square to Nubian Square.

A memorial event, titled The Life and Legacy of Chuck Turner, will be held Thursday, Jan. 9 at the Roxbury Community College Media Arts Center from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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