Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

After rise, fall, ex-alderman remains in midst of PB politics

- MIKE LINN

PINE BLUFF — Jack Foster, more than a year removed from federal prison for attempting to sell Pine Bluff City Council votes on a zoning issue, has had his nose in Pine Bluff politics for 20 years now.

The former city alderman, who once was 639 votes shy of becoming Pine Bluff’s first black mayor, has called for the resignatio­n of the city’s last four mayors.

Nowadays, the 64-yearold Lake Village native finds plenty of time to criticize the decisions of Pine Bluff Mayor Carl Redus Jr., the laws of the state of Arkansas and the lottery scholarshi­p.

A self-described polarizing figure, Foster, a husband and father of 11, calls himself a “realist” who still wants to help Pine Bluff be a better place — and do what he can to fix what he describes as a broken city government.

“Two things make the world go around — money and politics,” Foster said. “If you ain’t got no money you need to be in politics. And I ain’t got no money.”

Foster’s supporters have said he was born to help the less fortunate; his critics have called him an energetic agitator who experience­d a rise and fall in Pine Bluff politics.

“If he’d applied himself he could’ve amounted to something and probably would have become mayor of Pine Bluff,”

said state Sen. Jerry Taylor, DPine Bluff, who served as the city’s mayor from 1993-2000. “But he just wanted to be a thorn in everybody’s side. He’s an agitator.”

Taylor defeated Foster for mayor in 1992 and 1996.

Taylor said during his time as mayor, Foster had the Arkansas State Police initiate an investigat­ion into the mayor’s office, although the investigat­ion did not yield criminal charges.

Also during the 1990s, Foster challenged a countywide tax in Jefferson County Circuit Court. Foster lost, but won the initial appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court before the high court reconsider­ed and reversed its own decision.

Unemployed at the time, Foster spent much of his time in the city clerk’s office “going over everything with a finetooth comb,” Taylor said.

One day, an irritated Taylor dedicated a song to Foster and played it over the speaker system at city hall. The song was “Get a Job” by The Silhouette­s, Taylor said.

Foster ran for mayor in 1992, 1996 and 2000, when he got the most votes in the November general election but failed to get the necessary 50 percent. In the runoff, Foster lost to Dutch King by a vote of 7,333 to 6,694.

“That’s how close he was to being mayor,” said King, who served as mayor from 20012004.

King said “Jack is back” Foster was extremely active in the city’s business, although Foster readily admits he’s not as active as he used to be.

“If it was a story or a headline, he wanted to be a part of it,” King said. “Even before he was on the City Council he was at every council meeting, always speaking, always wanting to be involved in every issue. He was the ultimate community activist.”

“But Jack made it really hard because he was always out after somebody,” King said. “A lot of times I wanted to wring his neck. I remember telling him, ‘Jack, if you would have spent more time working with me instead of trying to make me look bad, the whole community would have been better.’”

After losing to King, Foster was elected in December 2001 to the Pine Bluff City Council, a position he held until 2005, when he was removed after his federal conviction on an aiding and abetting charge.

Foster was indicted and arrested in December 2003 along with former Alderman Billy Freeman. They were charged with accepting $32,500 to arrange votes on zoning issues related to the Pine Bluff Convention Center hotel. Freeman, 58, pleaded guilty to the extortion charge and was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison. church was built in 1895 using rough-hewn barn wood. In the 1930s, white clapboard was added to the exterior, making it appear similar to other vernacular churches and schoolhous­es throughout much of Arkansas. The one-story building is about 50 feet by 30 feet with a gable roof and three tall windows on each side. Electric space heaters will provide heat in the winter, Underdown said.

Hudson said the roof that was removed last week had been in place for about 20 years. She described it as “old barn tin” that was being replaced with a more-modern tin roof.

“Mainly the water has gotten in where the windows are rotting,” Hudson said. “And water was getting in around the chimney.”

Hudson said she hopes to start having services in the church soon after the work is completed. Services won’t be held there every Sunday, she said, but she hopes her son Levi Hudson, a nondenomin­ational minister, will preach the first sermon in the renovated church this fall.

William Johnson, the greatgrand­father of Hudson and Underdown, was one of the founders of the church, along with Charlie Bishop and John Allred. According to genealogic­al records, John Allred was apparently a first cousin to Frances A. Allred, President Barack Obama’s great-greatgreat-grandmothe­r.

Underdown said he believes the church is still community property. An 1895 deed stated that Thomas R. Bishop and Sallie Bishop were selling the land for $1 to Charlie Bishop, William Johnson and John Allred, their “heirs and assigns forever,” so a school and church could be built on the property.

Wasps like the ones that delayed work last week have been a tradition at Possum Trot for as long as anyone can remember.

“My dad always did say

A federal jury found Foster guilty of aiding and abetting an attempted extortion. He was sentenced March 10, 2005, to three years in federal prison.

After his release from prison in January 2009, Foster came back to Pine Bluff, where he is still involved in city politics.

At a City Council meeting in March, Foster was one of a group of residents who spoke against Redus’ terminatio­n of former Police Chief John Howell.

In his brief speech in support of Howell, Foster got a loud applause when he described the mayor as “Carl Redus, not Jesus of Nazareth.”

There’s not enough ink to print all of Foster’s ideas, but here are a few: He is against county and city tax initiative­s that would fund countywide economic developmen­t and quality-of-life enhancemen­t in Pine Bluff.

He believes the Arkansas Scholarshi­p Lottery should provide scholarshi­ps for students with grade-point averages below 2.5, and said he would “go to Little Rock and testify before the General Assembly” if that would help change the requiremen­ts.

Moreover, he doesn’t believe he should be banned from running for local public office again, because he was convicted in federal court of committing a felony against the United States — not convicted of a crime in circuit court against the state of Arkansas. it was the worst place in the world for wasps,” Hudson said.

In the meantime the wasps have tolerated the workers.

“We’ve killed most of them,” Underdown said. “If you don’t mess with them, they won’t bother you much.”

There was only one injury during the week. Belle Starr, Underwood’s Australian shepherd, was stung by a wasp and spent the rest of the day Tuesday under a pickup.

Former Pine Bluff street department manager Jimmy O’Fallon agreed with Taylor and King that if Foster had not gotten in trouble with the law, he likely would have been the first black mayor of Pine Bluff.

“Who doesn’t know Jack — everybody in Pine Bluff knows Jack,” O’Fallon said. “Jack had some pretty good ideas. Jack is kind of on a lot of people’s level here in Pine Bluff, and that’s what draws them to him.”

Jefferson County Justice of the Peace Alfred Carroll said Foster is so dedicated to change sometimes he loses sight of the fact that other people don’t see the issues through the same pair of glasses.

“Sometimes Jack feels like he’s swimming upstream,” said Carroll, who described Foster as a good and loyal friend. “Jack cares about the nameless people, the people whose names aren’t in the paper — it was something he was born with.”

“If there was an error in his judgment, it was getting in the political arena,” Carroll added. “Just because you are a great cook, doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great chef. Just because you can cook at home for 10, doesn’t mean you can be a chef and supervise people to cook for hundreds. Jack has a gift, but I don’t necessaril­y think it’s politics. Jack is an agent of social change. Sometimes those traits work best from outside the room rather than inside the room.”

 ?? Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/BENJAMIN KRAIN ?? Former Pine Bluff City Council member Jack Foster stays active in local politics — from the outside looking in.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/BENJAMIN KRAIN Former Pine Bluff City Council member Jack Foster stays active in local politics — from the outside looking in.
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