He is tall, slim, boyish-looking. Although he is 36, Huntington Beach Mayor Thomas J. Mays could easily pass for a college graduate student in his early 20s. He also could pass for being a hot-dogging young surfer, the kind who happily frequent the city's famous beaches.
Mays, in fact, is a former surfer, as he told about about 50 radio, television and print reporters from throughout the nation at a news conference last week.
"I can remember from my surfing days about how the wind conditions on the ocean would change," Mays said.
Mays, elected mayor by his fellow City Council members about three months ago, has been catapulted into national attention by the oil catastrophe that hit his city on Wednesday. By virtue of his position, he has become the city's chief spokesman.
He has been low-key in his news conferences and national TV talk-show interviews. He has not engaged in emotional hand-wringing over the oil spill, nor has he angrily pointed fingers of blame. His statements have been objective recitations of facts and figures involving the oil slick and the city's response. He seldom uses adjectives; he almost never raises his voice.
"That's just my style," the mayor said. "I get more accomplished--I get better results--by getting the facts first and not overreacting."
When asked about his personal sentiments about the spill, Mays also was low-key. "I feel really bad about it and disappointed it happened. I've surfed on these beaches. When you live in a city like this, you become emotionally involved," he said.
Mays, who is married and has two daughters, has a master's degree in political science from the University of Chicago. He is staff manager in charge of strategic planning and market analysis for McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Co. in Huntington Beach.
"My background is in planning for future needs," he said.
The oil disaster has taught him a major lesson involving future needs with intergovernmental relations, Mays said.
"It's become very obvious to me that Huntington Beach--and every city for that matter--needs to become a little more involved in national issues," he said. "Those national issues, such as what has happened here, really do affect us in our cities."