By Brooke Schultz
A love for the Chestertown community motivated first-time councilmen Ellsworth Tolliver and David Foster to run for ward seats in the town’s local election last year.
The councilmen and Mayor Chris Cerino, who was elected for his second term, were sworn in at the first Mayor and Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 2.
Chestertown consists of four wards, which are each represented at Mayor and Town Council. In addition to Tolliver and Foster’s seats, which were up for election in 2017, Linda Kuiper represents the Second Ward and Marty Stetson represents the Fourth Ward.
Foster represents the First Ward, which runs from Water Street to Bohemia. After the national 2016 election, Foster said he decided to respond differently; he began a “tour” of his friends, family, and old schoolmates who voted for President Donald Trump to understand their perspective. This led him to getting involved in government at the most basic level, he said.
“I really love Chestertown,” he said. “I have lived all over the world and consciously chose this [town].”
Foster has worked as a civil engineer and urban planner and, because he knew that small towns “all over our country were facing challenges,” he thought he could make a difference in Chestertown.
One of his goals is to create conditions for more young people to want to move to Chestertown.
“We have a big block of retired people and they’re terrific and they’re a great resource, but when they begin to outnumber the young people, you lose certain vitality, you lose the people who are entrepreneurial,” he said.
He also wants to bring students to the downtown area, as well as encourage them to let their voices be heard in local politics.
“I went to a number of meetings and listened in, rarely saw students,” he said. “It would be interesting to see if students could come; if they have interests—complaints or an idea—come to a meeting. I want to advocate for them having a voice.”
Foster said that President Kurt Landgraf’s interest in the community distinguishes him positively.
“We’re in a fight to hang on to the hospital; Landgraf was there. With the local United Way, he approached them and asked how he could help,” he said.
Tolliver’s Third Ward runs from Kent Street, behind the College, through to the farms.
A retired public school teacher, Tolliver said that he ran because he wanted to bring a sense of neighborhood and community to the Third Ward.
Coming into his term, he said he has two goals for certain: to establish a Third Ward business council, and establish a neighborhood association.
“I see that as my role, to be a cheerleader for what’s going on in these neighborhoods,” he said.
A Chestertown native, Tolliver said that he grew up on College Avenue, within walking distance of the College, but he never had much to do with the institution.
“WC is available to us as people who live here in Chestertown,” he said. “We [the College and the town] need to get to know each other a little better.”
He said that the College and the town has a long history of social activity in the Third Ward. In fact, he said, in the 60s, his grandfather brought the Freedom Riders to town. WC, he said, was a part of that.
“As WC grows, let everything and everybody grow with it,” he said. In addition, he said there should be recognition that “that there are racial problems in this area and [make] an effort to use the leverage WC has to deal with it—use white privilege to deal with racism.”
“My grandfather pushed me to be a leader,” he said. “I hope I’m making him proud right now.”
Cerino, whose first term as mayor ran from 2013-2017, said it’s nice to get a fresh set of eyes on the issues facing Chestertown.
“I think both David and Ellsworth are active to talk to people in their ward[s]. I’m impressed by their public engagement. It’s a great thing for the town over all,” he said.
Cerino decided to run for re-election to see the marina project on the Chester River through. In addition to his role in Chestertown’s local government, Cerino is the vice president of the Sultana Education Foundation.
“As a person who works there almost everyday, I see the potential there for a nice, functional marina to drive business into the downtown part of Chestertown,” he said. “I know first hand what needed to be done and knew how to fine tune the layout of the facility to make it work efficiently.”
Coming into his second term, Cerino said there are fewer physical projects that need to be done, but noted that, aside from the marina, he plans to focus on the rail trail system and Washington Park, both of which they just received grants for.
Beyond those, Cerino said he wants to continue bringing people downtown to stimulate the business economy there, improve cell service, get Kent County to bring the fiber network to town, continue “fighting the battle for a functional hospital,” and continue to work with the College.
“The College was helpful for getting funding for the marina in the last go-around,” he said. “I’m hoping to continue to collaborate. When the College and the town go in to get something accomplished, it’s a lot more bang for the buck. If we can tie the marina to the College’s ambitions downstream, it’s a much better sell for funders.”
Cerino was part of one of the WC’s pre-orientation programs at the start of the fall semester and he said that the program is great at introducing students to points of interest in Chestertown that they may not find on their own.
“For me, it’s always a great time when the College students are in town,” he said. “You add a lot of youth and vitality to the community and contribute to the local economy. … It’s a great thing to have the College in the town and I hope the students understand they’re appreciated.”