Juneau Mayor Stephen “Greg” Fisk is dead.
Fisk’s son, Ian, found his 70-year-old father collapsed on the floor of the Kennedy Street home where he lived alone. A 911 call reported Fisk’s death to the Juneau Police Department about 3:30 p.m. JPD and Capital City Fire/Rescue responded to the call and pronounced Fisk dead at the scene.
“The medical examiner has authorized an autopsy, so we’ll be doing that,” JPD chief Bryce Johnson said about five hours after the initial call for help.
Fisk was elected mayor in October, beating incumbent mayor Merrill Sanford with 65.9 percent of the votes. He was sworn in Oct. 20 after a campaign in which he said his highest priority would be diversifying Juneau’s economy.
No cause of death
As news of Fisk’s death spread, so did rumors. On Facebook and other social media, Juneauites speculated that Fisk had been killed in an assault.
“JPD’s aware of the rumors going around that there was an assault … that’s just speculation. We don’t know the cause of death. We’ll have to get the autopsy done,” Johnson said.
As JPD officers complete their documentation of Fisk’s home, Fisk’s body will be flown to Anchorage for examination.
Johnson said an assault is “one of the possibilities out there, but there’s others that could have happened. There could’ve been a fall, there’s lots of things that would cause it.”
While the cause of Fisk’s death remains uncertain, Johnson ruled out suicide or any connection to the mid-November double murder in Douglas.
He also said there is no evidence of forced entry into Fisk’s home.
“It doesn’t appear there was a break-in,” he said.
Living next door to Fisk’s home at 419 Kennedy Street, Don and Janet Kussart said the first sign of trouble they heard was when Ian Fisk opened the door to his father’s home and started shouting.
They said their house is close enough — two feet — to hear doors slam in the Fisk home, but they didn’t hear any disturbance indicative of an assault. They hadn’t seen Fisk all day Monday, and his son arrived at the home after Fisk failed to answer the phone.
Next steps for city
Following Fisk’s death, Mary Becker was named acting mayor of Juneau. Becker was the city’s deputy mayor and a member of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly. The CBJ attorney’s office is currently working to make sure “we get the succession process exactly right,” Assembly member Jesse Kiehl said Monday night. Though the attorney’s office will be spending the better part of tomorrow working to make sure the procession is handled in accordance with city code, Kiehl said that there are a few things that the Juneauites can expect. At some point, he said, the city will hold a special election to determine who will replace Fisk for good. Becker will only keep her current role if she runs and wins. In the meantime, however, the city will also have to fill Becker’s District 1 Assembly seat. Becker was in the last year of her second term. Kiehl said city attorneys are still hashing out the details of the special election.
The last time the city had to replace its mayor was in 1995 when then-mayor (now lieutenant governor) Byron Mallott stepped down, Kiehl said. At the time, Dennis Egan — now a state senator — was deputy mayor and became acting mayor. He ran for the position in the subsequent special election and won.
Friends react to news
“I think this was a terrible day for all of Juneau,” said Jill Ramiel, president of the Downtown Business Association. Ramiel met Fisk six years ago on the Juneau Economic Development board and had been friends with him since. Ramiel served as treasurer for Fisk’s mayoral campaign, which was a role reversal of sorts: When Ramiel and Fisk termed out of the JEDC board, she sought him to be the treasurer of the DBA.
“He was never afraid to say what he thought,” Ramiel said, explaining why she selected him for the DBA. “He was a visionary. He was going to do such great things.”
During their friendship, Ramiel said she got to know Fisk well. His grandson, Kai, was in the same kindergarten class as Ramiel’s daughter. Fisk even stopped by her house for Thanksgiving dinner. Ramiel was one of many stops Fisk made while “friend hopping” that night.
“I was really looking forward to living in a city that he was leading,” she said.
She’s not alone. Nearly 3,000 people voted for Fisk in October. Among them was Bob King, Fisk’s campaign chair and neighbor of more than a decade. King lived just above Fisk on Starr Hill and said he and Fisk had been friends since Fisk moved into his house in the early 2000s.
“He moved in and we became good friends,” he said. “He’d come up to my house for dinner, and he’d invite us down to his house for dinner.”
King said the two would talk about everything from local politics to fishing. They were both “fish heads,” King said.
This fall, their relationship grew into more than just fish talk. Fisk asked King to be chair of his campaign. Despite King’s initial reservations — he even suggested several other names for the job — Fisk wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“He wanted me,” King said. And he was proud to be a part of Fisk’s campaign because Fisk was so adamant about running an entirely positive campaign.
“This is sad because his potential as a mayor was already showing,” King said. “For that potential to be snuffed out is just a crushing loss. I’m going to miss him horribly, and the community is, too.”
King lost more than his mayor Monday. He lost a friend, somebody to talk with about going on dump runs and home-remodeling projects. “It’s those conversations that I’m going to miss the most,” he said. “I’m going to miss him being around as a fellow fish head, a neighbor and a friend.”
As police prepared to remove Fisk’s body from his home, a small crowd started lighting candles and placing them in the center of a small public sculpture.
“That makes me feel better,” said D.J. Thomson after lighting the candles in Fisk’s memory.
(Editor’s Note: The Empire misquoted Assembly member Jesse Kiehl by using the word procession instead of succession. The quote has been corrected.)