Eric Foster, Guy Behind the DFW Most Powerful List, Says He's Only Getting Started

Earlier this afternoon I got a call from a phone number beginning with the 903 area code -- and, hey, we were just speaking of first thing this morning. Sure enough, the man on the other end identified himself as Eric Foster, who is indeed the gent behind that DFW Most Powerful Web site. And, he acknowledged, not only was he Eric Foster but we did indeed speak this morning -- he's the guy who initially told me he didn't know who ran the Web site, only that he'd been hired to run the thing.

"We'd hoped to stay anonymous for a few days, but I guess we didn't do a terribly good job of covering our tracks," he told Unfair Park.

Foster says he's got nothing to hide -- far from it, since he hopes to turn the thing into a moneymaker by adding new lists every few days (including, forthcoming, lists devoted to local celebs, media members and ... well, what ya got?). He says he had just hoped that, well, people would wonder what the what and that it'd attract some buzz before the big reveal. But now that the curtain's up, he's more than happy to talk about the list -- what it is, what he hopes to do with it and how, sure, it ain't perfect by a long shot. Our Q&A follows.

When did the site launch? And what's it, you know, for?

We launched it 10 days ago. And the idea is to sell or lease the database to nonprofits and for-profits. It'll be an expanding thing. We think with the Super Bowl coming we'll get some national publicity. The site is sort of a fun attempt to .. put it this way, people are fascinated with lists, particularly with the Super Bowl coming. I had started building a database to market to nonprofits. It seemed to me they're all trying to raise money from the same 105 people, and all nonprofits are pleading they're losing money in a down economy. So I tried to create a database for them with the intention that they'd pay me to keep it up. I've been working on it on and off for two years.

I grew up in Dallas and moved to Gun Barrel City six, seven years ago. I'm a writer by avocation, and I got fascinated with the information you could find out about people by clipping newspapers, visiting Web sites, you name it. People like to drop names and information, and I just picked it all up. It's my digital non-littering campaign, and once you put it all into a database and look at what you've got, you can figure A, B, C and D out of it.

We have names, addresses, job titles, where they work, what they've done politically in terms of federal and state contributions, and we cataloged who contributes to who and how much, and it gives you an interesting portfolio about people. And, of course, Google searches are a big part of it.

Also, Dallas's monied families are disappearing: The Murchisons, the Hunts through marriage, names like that. So I started tracking genealogical aspects of Dallas power. So I just by accident started re-reading Dallas and Fort Worth history as well. And after I'd done all this work and hadn't been remunerated for it, a partner of mine, a computer tech, he said we can turn this into some kind of Web site. We thought about what, and D Magazine has all these lists, and we thought, "Why don't we do something unique in that it does deal with power?" After all we we all have different definitions of it.

What's yours, at least in terms of cobbling together this list?

There's political power -- holding political office. We assigned values to those positions. So Kay Bailey Hutchison gets the most, a U.S. Congressman is second, then all the way down. And you've got political contributions. And there's the charity factor. Then there's the celebrity factor -- within the business and social community, there are people everyone knows, like the Hunts and the extended Perot family. We tried to weigh some of that.

There's also professional power: George W., we picked the absolute for him and backed off from there in a couple of categories. He skews the curve no matter what you do, but you assign CEOs a value and exec vice presidents a lesser value and so on. It all varies too on the size of the company, the number of employees, things like that.

OK, so let's get to the serious questions. Like, how the heck does Nolan Ryan rank lower on the list than Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Chuck Greenberg, who doesn't own squat in this town yet?

This isn't perfect yet, but you have to mix in their celebrity and, for instance, in Nolan's case, it's hard to access what his worth is. His property isn't in Dallas, and if you added everyone's property outside the four-county area, that'd change the list drastically. Everybody has a different opinion: He's more important than this person or that person. And Nolan's a good example. He may not have near as much money as Michael Young. He's certainly not getting paid $13 million a year as president of the Rangers. But if enough people can convince me I've gotten it wrong, we'll change it.

I haven't given maybe enough weight to the political position people - maybe I need to weigh Congressman and county commissioners a little heavier. One way we looked at it was: If you call the police chief at 2 in the morning, will he answer the phone?

Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief sits at No. 79 on your list. Mayor Tom Leppert, all the way down at 143. Seriously?

We wanted to start a discussion. it's like college football rankings. Everyone has a different opinion. This was not designed to be malicious, but to start a discussion and get people stirred up and get them to visit the site and say, "So and so needs to be higher." And if they make a good case for it, we'll go back and look at it. But Leppert versus Moncrief is simple: Moncrief's from a very connected family and has been a career politician. So it struck me as natural he'd be higher than Leppert.

Terrell Owens. Go.

He still has an apartment here. Those are the tough ones. Marty Turco too. You can't start arbitrarily throwing people out. I looked at an old list of so-called celebrities from D, and they included people who were just born here. I don't want to do that. Our celebrity list, which comes out next week, I want people who have a home here. T.O. -- I knew that would get a rise out of people.

So what will you do with the list? Or lists -- sounds like you've got several forthcoming.

We're going to continue to do something with it. On September 1 it becomes The Top 1,000. Our database is 19,000 households, and by the end of the year it'll be 20,000, and we'll add to it as we drill down more into the next 500 people. Next up is celebrities, then power couples.

I assume you'd like to make some dough off this?

That's certainly our hope. We'd like to sell advertising and sponsorships. If someone wants to spend thousands of dollars to brand the site, we're not proud. So long as it's not organized crime.

Is there any chance I'll make the 1,000 Most Influential?

You don't live in a $35 million house.

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