Obituary: Larry Frankel / Respected ACLU executive in D.C. and Pennsylvania
Larry Frankel spent his career trying to sway people to his side of the debate.
And even though he was working for the liberal-minded American Civil Liberties Union, he seized upon opportunities to persuade people in conservative politics, or law enforcement, or even gun-rights groups, to move his way on the issue.
"Larry relished making common cause with usual ACLU foes more than anything, I think," said Witold Walczak, the legal director for the Pennsylvania ACLU. "He took great joy in those situations."
Mr. Frankel, the legislative director for the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union from 1992 through 2008, died last week.
His body was found Friday on a jogging trail in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.
Though autopsy results are pending, it is believed that he died from natural causes.
Mr. Frankel left the Pennsylvania office last year to become the state legislative counsel for the ACLU in Washington, D.C.
His work there included advising all 50 state ACLU offices on national matters, said Sara Mullen, the associate director of the Pennsylvania organization.
"I think he felt like he accomplished all he could. Not many people could handle Harrisburg for that long," Ms. Mullen said. "Moving on to a bigger stage meant he would have a much larger impact."
During his tenure, Mr. Frankel worked on a broad range of issues, including First Amendment issues, voting rights, the death penalty and gay rights.
In addition, Ms. Mullen said, he focused on the rights of people who are often ignored by society -- prisoners and immigrants.
"He was the ACLU to me," she said. "He was always the person you turned to for a definitive answer."
Mr. Walczak called his longtime friend a "brilliant strategist."
"He was a master tactician at figuring out how to stop legislation," he said.
Among his successes, Mr. Frankel worked to reform the state's Right to Know Law; fought against voter ID requirements; advocated for former felons to have the right to vote; and fought against a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
"He commanded the respect of all who knew him, even those who vehemently disagreed with the ACLU," Ms. Mullen said.
In addition to serving as the legislative director, Mr. Frankel was the executive director from 1996 to 2001.
"He was a wonderful lobbyist and a beautiful person," Mr. Walczak said. "The tragedy here is despite his brilliance and prominence, he was a kind soul who always had time to help anyone who asked."
He often served as a mentor to young staff members when they arrived at the Pennsylvania office. He also was known to be the first person in the office to visit when a new baby was born, Mr. Walczak said.
Mr. Frankel grew up in California and went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied comparative literature, and later earned a law degree.
He is survived by his father, two brothers and a sister.
Funeral arrangements were not available last night. A memorial service will be held in Philadelphia at a later date.
Contributions may be made to the American Civil Liberties Foundation P.O. Box 40008, Philadelphia, PA 19106, or the Fairmount Park Conservancy, 1617 JFK Blvd., Suite 1670, Philadelphia, PA 19103.
First Published August 31, 2009 12:00 am