Candidate Profile: David Foster

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David Foster, candidate for Ward 1

David Foster – This is one in a series of profiles of candidates for the Ward 1 seat on the Chestertown Town Council. Three candidates are running for the seat, currently held by Councilwoman Liz Gross. The election is Nov. 7 at Chestertown Firehouse with voting open from 7 a.m. to 8: pm.

Candidate profiles are based on an interview plus submitted biographical material.  See the Spy’s report on the Nov 2 Candidate Forum at Heron Point with a 22-minute video of all three candidates responses.  —  Editors

David Foster was born in Raleigh, North Carolina and grew up in University Park, Maryland. He has lived on Byford Court in Chestertown since 1997. He has been married to Barbara Foster for 49 years. Together, they have two children: Lucia Foster, the former Director of Garfield Center for the Arts, and Jeremy Foster, an international renewable energy consultant.

Foster is a graduate of the University of Maryland, with a Bachelors in Civil Engineering. After college, Foster joined the Peace Corps, where he did school construction in Gabon, West Africa. He then joined the U.S. Marine Corps but was honorably discharged due to a training accident. But that accident, he said, while ending his plans for a military career ended up leading him to other wonderful opportunities to serve. He worked for the US Agency for International Development, and later attended the Foreign Service Institute for training in Vietnamese Language & Culture, after which he worked in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, managing evaluation programs in III Corps. Thus he ended up in Viet Nam after all.

After Vietnam, Foster returned to graduate school to study Urban Planning, Economics and Policy Analysis at Virginia Tech. He worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency as an engineer and urban planner with a focus on helping to improve the effectiveness of Environmental Programs. He spent several years on loan to USAID as a Senior Urban Environmental Advisor for Asia, based in Bangkok. He then moved full-time to USAID in Washington as Assistant Director for Urban Environment, Office of Housing and Urban Development.

Foster also worked as an urban environmental advisor in Romania, Egypt, India, and other countries. He was a Senior Urban Environmental Advisor and Adjunct Professor at the Administrative Staff College of India, teaching Urban Planning and Water Supply, with an emphasis on the safety and cost-effectiveness of well managed continuous water supply.

After moving to Chestertown full time, he served as Riverkeeper on the Chester River and as Chairman of a pro-bono Chesapeake Bay study group promoting more efficient and effective pollution control.

Foster said he decided to run for the town council for three reasons. “Like all of us, I really love Chestertown,” he said. He and his wife visited town 20 years ago, fell in love with it and bought a home within a month. Secondly, as an urban planner and engineer, he tends to look at the long-range picture. “I’m really concerned about the future of Chestertown. Small towns are really in trouble.” With his 40 years’ experience as an urban planner, he said, “I have many of the skills that are needed to help make a difference here, to help start a conversation… Win or lose, I will have helped start a conversation about that future.”

Foster said he sees the major issue facing the town as the lack of long-range planning about the future. “We tend to address issues one thing at a time,” he said. “We have to look forward five to 10 years at a minimum. We love what’s here, but we’ve got to be brave enough to make the changes necessary to keep those things that we value.” He said there is room for additional small business in Chestertown and the immediate area, and the expansions of Lamotte and Dixon Valve and the possibility of high-speed internet offer “great opportunities, and if we seize these opportunities, we can make a difference.” He cited a University of North Carolina study of 45 small towns that showed that a comprehensive effort – “getting the schools, the towns, businesses all working together on bringing in those businesses” – was the key to a town’s retaining its vitality. He said he thought it would be useful to set up a conference at Washington College to examine those issues as they relate to Chestertown and lay out a “roadmap” for small businesses that could fit into the town.

Foster also noted the town’s age demographics, with 25 percent of the population being age 65 or older and only 12 percent under 18. “That’s exactly opposite of what a normal pattern is in Maryland,” he said. “We’re missing not only young families, we’re missing their ideas, their vitality, their willingness to invest and start a business – their support for the schools.” He noted that the town council has no legal authority over the schools, but it could be an advocate for necessary changes and improvements in institutions that affect the quality of life here. He said progress is possible if people are willing to set aside political differences and work for the common good – citing his experience as Riverkeeper where a love of the river united people whose opinions on other subjects were often radically different.

But the key, he said, is to work proactively, not always in response to an impending crisis. He referred to the difference between waiting for a roadway to wear out before performing repairs and a “pavement management system” of regular maintenance and patching – similar to regular doctor’s visits. “Politicians love to have their picture taken when they’re cutting a ribbon,” he said, “but there are few if any photos of them working on maintenance and repairs – it doesn’t happen.” He said a change of mindset is needed to attract small business and young families to town.

Foster said, “I want to have a sense that the town council and the staff and major employers are committed to working together – that they trust each other and will work together for the town. It’s the process that I think is critical. They really need to think long-range and take the short-term steps that will get us to those goals.” He said that whatever the outcome of the election, he is committed to starting the conversation about the future of the town and keeping it going.

Foster’s candidacy has been endorsed by former Ward 1 Councilman Jim Gatto and former Mayor Elmer Horsey.

Candidate profiles are based on an interview plus submitted biographical material.  —  Editors

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