The Biggest “Lunatic” in Philly Journalism

Why Jim Foster makes local politicians cringe.

The most important neighborhood newspapers you’re probably not reading are the Germantown Chronicle and the Northwest Independent. One spot in Philadelphia where these papers have become a must-read is City Hall. That’s because no other newspapers in the city, not the Inquirer or Daily News, are working more diligently to uncover the waste, corruption and incompetence of the political machine that runs this city. And it’s really starting to tick off some powerful people.

It’s no wonder that many in City Hall try to discredit the publisher of the newspapers as a mad man. “A nut, a lunatic, doesn’t understand how government works, they have been saying those things about me for years,” says 70-year-old Jim Foster. “The worst thing they call me is a Republican. That’s worse than being a child molester in this neighborhood.” Foster has been registered Independent his whole life.

It was a little easier for the city power brokers to discount Foster when he ran an auto parts store in Germantown and could only get involved in civic organizations and write for Chestnut Hill Local in his free time. Still, it was during that time that he exposed the failing Route 15 street-car restoration project that cost $100 million in taxpayer money for trolleys that sat unused. “That was the first time I had a run-in with then-councilman Michael Nutter,” Foster says proudly. “He called me on the phone and wanted to know if I was some wiseass from Blue Bell who doesn’t know how a city is run. I told him, ‘No, sir. I’ve lived in Germantown all my life.’”

He also was way ahead of everyone in uncovering the Germantown Settlement scandal, a money pit of lost millions in government funds. “When the FBI started its investigation, one of the first people they talked with was me,” says Foster, “same with D.A. Seth Williams.”

Now, Foster is raging against the machine full-time and has been since 2009 when he founded the Chronicle and the Independent. Two other local papers, the Germantown Courier and the Mount Airy Express went out of business, and he seized the opportunity. Foster’s two papers have a circulation of 37,000, and when they are delivered every other week, they make politicians cringe. State Rep Dwight Evans, former councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, Congressman Chaka Fattah, and State Rep Cherelle Parker are some of his favorite targets.

Foster says getting information on city and state leaders comes from being involved. “I have a lot of moles. Folks know I was born and raised here. They know I will never rat them out.”

Recently, the newspapers attracted a lot of attention and Internet traffic after Foster put a color picture of the Mayor on the front page with the caption “What Me Worry?” Inside was a scathing editorial about the Mayor’s record. That got Michael Nutter’s attention once again. Chief of Staff Everett Gillison sent a letter and asked that it be published. It was, with glee.

“The letter gave me and the paper the credibility they have been trying to keep from me.” Then, sounding more like the Man of La Mancha than a publisher from Germantown, Foster got dreamy, “I think it could be the first crack in the foundation of the city’s political structure.”

The crack may not be there, but that won’t stop Foster from throwing stones. He is at his best when he stays hyper-local. “The amount of money wasted in Germantown is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.” And as long as Jim Foster is breathing, he will write about it. “I know more about what goes on in Northwest Philadelphia than any other individual. There are others who know a lot, but they are afraid to talk about it. I’m not.”

  • Thomas Barnes

    Wondering if the (DROP) Defered Retirement Option Plan was mentioned or the trees that are toxic…

  • irapm

    At last! Thanks to both of you, Jim and Larry. Don’t stop

  • L. Deveres

    I absolutely agree! I am proud to finally be able to read a local printed newspaper worthy of the mukrakers of the early 20th century. Foster is honest, passionate and a remarkable straight shooter. He goes beyond the mainstream in covering the elected officials who have sold out Germantown to the highest bidders — their friends. And to all Journalism Interns: apply here!

  • adventfunds

    This all sounds great but do you realize this man who is being written up to be a hero is a lying crook? Someone should investigate Foster on how much money he owes people with absolutely no intention of paying it back. He is very good at pointing fingers but he need to be pointing them at himself.

  • Ed Feldman

    Why has Larry (and Philly Mag) left out Jim’s most substantive investigative achievement? As member of The Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Oversight Committee, he uncovered financial malfeasance that opened a Pennsylvania State Attorney General’s Investigation which resulted in fines, sanctions, and the CHCA being put on a “watch list”. I served on that committee and met with the AG’s myself. But Larry left that part out. I think I know why. Larry has lived in Chestnut hill for many years. He has many friends in the CHCA. So does Herb. If we didn’t know which color of corruption these two prefer to expose and which color they prefer to ignore before, we sure do now.

  • Margaret Motheral

    Hi Ed Feldman, Yeah he did a real good job covering the Devon disaster. I sent him reams of violations and court documents where even the opposing council admitted there was an environmental problem. Then the project is so insane-wrongly built that they go bankrupt. John O’Connelly, leader of the 9th ward democratic committee set up that illegal project. Senior City Planner Richard Redding, who has met with City Council on development projects for years wrote to “a conspiracy was engineered in Reed Miller office ” against me, the adjacent neighbor who was getting slaughter by haz mat. Maybe the guys wrecking the project were flying on lead and mercury and couldn’t hammer straight. Foster delights in being in the same FBI informant position as Seth Williams who is best buddies with Vernon Price (of Reed Miller office) and Derek Green, both of whom have overseen a whistleblower retaliation attack on me. And Ed bought into it. Ken Weinstein keeps up the attack as well since his partner Stan Smith was said by John O’Connelly to own the land and Stan’s name is on the title papers. Foster refused to run the truth about the devon story and attacked me. “Duty of Care” violations throughout and much worse. RICO. Whistleblower retaliation and all of involved.

  • Bruce Robinson

    Thanks for this truly wonderful article about Jim Foster, an honest and sincere
    fighter for the people of Germantown. It is especially Jim’s dedication to the
    neglected part of Germantown– from roughly the Wayne Junction train station
    area to about the Germantown and Coulter area that I really appreciate. I have
    seen with my own eyes Jim put his time, his dedication, and his money where his
    mouth (printing ink) is when it comes to supporting and aiding the people and
    entities that are fighting the good fight in this community. To those who
    name-call and try to assassinate Jim’s character, I say “keep
    flailing away to no avail.” Jim Foster is the kind of man whom the
    powers that-be and their lackeys or dupes will try to libel, slander and
    marginalize for as long as he lives for these simple reasons– 1) He cares, 2)
    He’s making a real difference. If we had about 10 more Jim Fosters we might
    actually be able to turn this city around. And there is just no more that needs
    to be said then that.