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.”