HAMMOND — It was a bittersweet moment for outgoing Mayor Mayson Foster as college and city officials and friends bade him well and reminisced about his 12-year tenure with the city.
“I have mixed emotions,” Foster said about leaving his post as Hammond’s mayor. “Many people asked if I wish they would have changed the charter (to include unlimited mayoral terms) but I said no. I’m a firm believer in term limits.”
In 1998, Foster decided to run for mayor but lost to Louis Tallo. Foster went back into the banking industry and waited for another chance to helm city hall, which came in 2002.
Foster talked to the crowd gathered during the Hammond Chamber of Commerce event for more than 20 minutes. At the conclusion of his speech, Foster, who is known for his sense of humor, said that while it would be nice if people remembered him as the Lone Ranger who rode out of town as people asked, “Who was that masked man?” he hoped that most citizens would simply say, “Well done.”
“I think he’s done an outstanding job,” Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards said. “I know I’m certainly going to miss him as mayor and the city of Hammond is going to miss him as mayor.”
“He’s been an excellent mayor for the city of Hammond not only as a political figure but as a citizen of Hammond,” Southeastern Louisiana University President John Crain said.
Foster talked about the improvements his administration made to the city, the biggest of which was opening C.M. Fagan Drive, which allowed residents access to Hammond Square. Under his administration, downtown Hammond underwent a face-lift, and crumbling buildings were restored to their original grandeur. A new sewage treatment plan was created, which allowed treated effluent to be diverted into the wetlands to help it grow and prosper.
In 2004, Foster and his administration built the first concrete skate park in Louisiana and installed computers in every police car, he said.
As he looked back on his terms as mayor, Foster called the days after Hurricane Katrina “our proudest hour.”
“We had every major street open the same day as the storm and every street open by the end of the next day,” he said. “That’s when I could see the value of our employees.”
During his administration, Foster and his team have been able to secure the Cleanest City Contest title for eight consecutive years, longer than any city in the history of the contest, he said.
Hammond was also the first city in Louisiana to be designated as a Safe Community America.
Foster helped improve traffic flow by opening Rogers Moore Parkway, which gave residents in Lincoln Park a second exit in case of an emergency, he said. Old Baton Rouge Highway was realigned, and the streets around Hammond Square have been redeveloped, he said.
Continuing to develop the Hammond Northshore Regional Airport, Foster and city officials extended the main runway and built a control tower.
The city received $600,000 to purchase the old Hancock Bank building to move the Police Department into one building and allow for expansion of Hammond City Court, he said.
The city has made improvements to the Michael J. Kenney Community Center and now hosts events there weekly.
Foster, who opposed video bingo, said that a positive result of the games is that proceeds fund city improvement projects.
Under his administration, Hammond opened the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum.
In 2009, both Hammond Square, an outdoor mall, and the Children’s Discovery Museum opened, giving residents and visitors a place to shop and visit, and bringing more than 1,000 jobs to the area, Foster said.
Foster, who rushed through the last portion of his speech while trying to include the highlights of his years in office, was adamant that he hasn’t decided what he’ll do following his last day in office.
“My plan for the next six weeks is to be the best mayor this city’s ever seen,” Foster said.
“We’re leaving this city in excellent condition so the new administration can hit the ground running,” he said.