WILMINGTON — It’s an election year for Wilmington mayor and city council. Earlier this week, one candidate threw his name into the ring.
Marlowe Weldon Foster is seeking one of three council seats, as the terms of Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes and two council members, Neil Anderson and Kevin Spears, are expiring this year.
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Filing for the municipal elections opens July 7 and closes two weeks later on July 21.
“I am a registered Democrat, and I have strong convictions about economic empowerment and prosperity for all Wilmingtonians,” Foster wrote in an email to Port City Daily. “I value connecting citizens with resources that support them in advancing their lives.”
The former senior vice-president of development and business strategy at the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina is a native of Farmville, Virginia. He moved from Raleigh to Wilmington, North Carolina, three years ago, with his wife and two children, to be closer to the beach.
“I love Wilmington,” Foster explained. “It is a place with enormous energy and incredible potential. Seeing the momentum of this place is what has inspired me to try to take this active role in its story.”
Jobs, juvenile crime and housing affordability are a priority to his campaign.
Roughly 30,000 jobs have been added to Wilmington’s labor force in the last decade according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. Foster believes more measures should be in place to stimulate the workforce, vital to the economic growth of the city.
“I often point to the business incubator, Genesis Block, as a great example,” he said. “They are nurturing our next great businesses, helping us to identify the next nCino or Live Oak Bank.”
To keep employment strong, Foster said affordable housing is a necessity, particularly when the median house average, close to $400,000, has been rising in New Hanover County over the last few years. He points to wages that teachers, police officers and firefighters make as problematic.
For instance, the average pay for Wilmington police officers fell 13% below market pay, according to a report Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams presented to council in January.
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“You see many of our first responders living in neighboring counties in housing stock that is less expensive and driving into Wilmington to work,” Foster explained. “Mixed-use developments, a mix of housing stock at a variety of price points and greater density will go a long way to helping us tackle our affordability challenges.”
Crime is also a concerning issue to the candidate, particularly juvenile crime. Overall, crime has decreased by 4% citywide, the lowest since 2009, Williams told council earlier this year.
However, the Wilmington Police Department’s Juvenile Crimes Unit had heavier workloads last year, according to WECT reporting. Det. Daniel Ruisueno told the outlet the incidents ranged from “substance abuse to violent crimes, such as assaults or other offenses involving weapons.”
Foster said leaders should do more to protect school-aged children and create safer environments. He has three kids who attend Hoggard High School.
“When they hear a firecracker they are ducking for cover because they believe it is gunshots,” he said. “Look at the challenges at New Hanover High School. Kids are searching for bulletproof backpacks online.”
Other issues of importance are nurturing a downtown that continues to thrive.
“The Live Oak Amphitheater has proven to be a jewel for the city,” Foster said. “Now we must look at ensuring we create a true city center and address the downtown parking challenges. The way that our streets are maintained, our neighborhoods planned, and our traffic congestion is mitigated are all important considerations, too.”
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Having received a bachelor’s of arts degree in political science and a master’s in public administration from Virginia Commonwealth University, Foster’s work is vast across multiple for-profit and nonprofit industries over the last three decades. He has served as budget director at Winston-Salem State University, worked in corporate affairs at Lowe’s Companies and government affairs at Pfizer. He also was an executive in corporate government affairs at BASF.
“The companies and organizations I worked with allowed me to travel and meet people not only within the U.S., but globally,” Foster indicated. “That is what I liked most about the roles and what has helped me hone my people skills. Finding common ground as a council member will be critically important and my professional roles sharpened this skill set.”
Volunteer and civic engagement also keeps him active in the community. Foster has been on the Z. Smith Reynolds Advisory Panel, the North Carolina Progress Board, the North Carolina State Banking Commission, American Lung Association Board (N.C. Chapter) and the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Community Investment Council.
“All of these organizations are laser focused on improving the lives of citizens,” he said.
Locally, Foster has volunteered with the Good Shepherd Center, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Wilmington and at faith institutions. He also helps with Tennis for Good, a nonprofit his wife founded in 2012.
Working across the aisle to “build consensus” with those that have disparate beliefs from his own remains of importance to Foster. It’s not his first foray into politics; he sought the position of North Carolina Commissioner of Labor in 2012 but lost in the primaries.
“I had a lot of ideas about how we could improve the lives of N.C.’s workers, and I felt like I could make a difference,” Foster noted. “I came up short, but I learned a lot from the experience.”
He is running to represent all voices in Wilmington, he said, “regardless of their political affiliation.”
The municipal elections take place Nov. 7, 2023.
[The article has been updated to reflect Foster was formerly with the food bank; his tenure ended there in February.]
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