Mayor Thomas J. Mays grinned as he recounted how it started one year ago.
“Well, I told my boss (at McDonnell Douglas) that I was going to be mayor for a year, that it would be a slow year, and that at the end of it, I’d be running for reelection to the City Council,” Mays said.
He was right on one out of three. He did become mayor. But 1990 in this coastal city did not turn out to be a slow year, politically or otherwise. And Mays wound up running not for City Council but for the state Legislature.
At noon today, in Sacramento, Mays, 36, will be sworn in as a new state assemblyman for the Long Beach-Huntington Beach area. Tonight, after flying back to Huntington Beach, Mays will attend his last City Council meeting as mayor, and a new mayor will be elected.
Today thus caps a tumultuous year during which Mays rose from the obscurity of local politics to becoming, in the words of Orange County GOP Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes, “one of the bright stars in Orange County’s Republican galaxy.”
Recently, Mays recalled the highlights of his year as mayor and his goals as a new legislator from Orange County.
One of his key aims, Mays said, will be to focus more attention on the problems of cities. The Legislature, he said, too often imposes costs and duties on local governments without giving them ways to pay for it.
“Right now, Huntington Beach is facing a $2-million shortfall this year, and about a half million of that is due to the Legislature’s action last summer,” Mays said, referring to the Legislature’s surprise action in passing a bill that allows counties to charge cities for processing tax bills and for jailing prisoners.
“The cities have absolutely no input in actions like these,” Mays said. “I want people in state government to consider what they’re doing to local government when they make these decisions. For instance, UCI Medical Center has to take poor patients for the state, but the state doesn’t pay the full costs of those patients.”
Mays said he would like to be on one of the Assembly committees that control tax-and-spend bills, such as the Ways and Means and the Revenue and Taxation committees. An alternate preference, he said, is the Natural Resources Committee.
“I represent one of the longest coastal districts in the state, and there are many environmental issues that are important to our district,” Mays said. For example, he said, he would like to revise new legislation which sets up an organization to respond to oil spills.
“But it doesn’t do anything to help prevent new spills,” Mays said. “I’d like to work with the Coast Guard and other officials in drafting some rules-of-the-road legislation for tankers that would help prevent future spills.”
The Feb. 7 oil spill by the tanker American Trader off Huntington Beach was the event that catapulted Mays into political prominence. Overnight, the city had to deal with massive environmental problems. Mays, who had only been mayor three months at the time, had to make key decisions and press the city’s needs to officials in Sacramento and Washington.
Shirley Dettloff, president of the environmental group Amigos de Bolsa Chica, said she thinks Mays “showed outstanding leadership. That’s why our organization supported him for the Assembly. We look forward to working with him in the Legislature.”
But some of Mays’ critics, including Debbie Cook, spokeswoman for Save Our Parks, were not won over. Cook said she regards Mays as “a 10-second hero . . . someone who was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.” She said she thinks he has had “a mediocre administration at best” and has been too attentive to the interests of developers.
Mays said he analyzes each development project on its merits.
“I’m pro-business; that’s how I see myself,” Mays said. Business provides the base for a healthy economy, which provides the taxes to support social services, he said. “You’ve got to have a healthy climate for business if the state is going to take care of its problems. Too many businesses are leaving this state. That’s one of my big concerns.”
Mays’ year as mayor has included the city’s fight to halt malathion spraying by the state against the Mediterranean fruit fly. Although the city ultimately lost, it went as far as possible in the state courts, he said. If malathion spraying again becomes an issue in the Legislature, Mays said, he will be able to provide insight to the fears of urban residents in Southern California.
Mays said his wife, Sydne, and daughters Kelsey, 8, and Lindsey, 4, will continue to live in Huntington Beach when he goes to the Legislature. He will share a condominium with two other legislators Mondays through Thursdays, he said, and then fly back to Huntington Beach on weekends.
Unexpectedly, he noted, the legislative job starts early. Gov. George Deukmejian has called a special session of the Legislature, to deal with the state’s money woes, and Mays plans to fly back to Sacramento on Tuesday for that session.
“It’s going to be a tough change,” he said. “Now I’ll just be one person out of 80 in the Assembly.”