ANNA MARIA – Judging by what people say about him, “Blessed are the peacemakers” could have been written about Mike Selby.
The former mayor of Anna Maria, who stepped down from office at the end of his term in November 2012, made a last-minute decision to run for election in 2010, when the city was experiencing difficult times.
“He ran for mayor because he saw the division in the city. Friends were not speaking to friends. It was scary,” said his wife of 19 years, Mary Selby, who urged him to run.
The decision was not an easy one.
On Thursday at 5 p.m., the day before the noon deadline to declare candidacy for the office, Selby finally made the choice.
“We had to get a notary and a courier to get it to the elections people on time,” she said, adding, “We never dreamed he would win.”
He did, and for the next two years, the couple couldn’t go to a restaurant without residents lining up behind his chair to bend his ear.
Selby’s battle cry to bridge the gap between businesses and residents struck a chord, and won over some opponents. This year, people begged him to run again, his wife said. Some former opponents even offered to work on his campaign. But they were disappointed to learn that he had made a promise to himself to be a one-term mayor.
“He’s a man of his word. That’s who he is,” she said.
“He’s a man of great integrity,” agreed Karen DiCostanzo, Selby’s neighbor and Mary Selby’s cooking buddy.
When he took office, most residents were not in agreement about a number of issues, she said. The re-development of Pine Avenue had split the city, and Selby talked with both sides and suggested a happy medium, DiCostanzo said.
The recall of then-commissioner Harry Stoltzfus, still a fresh wound in the city when Selby took office, also had divided the community.
“Selby said, ‘It’s over, we have to move on, we have to heal all the wounds,’ ” DiCostanzo said.
“He dedicated two years to our city leading us forward in a positive direction. He worked very, very hard to bring us together. He seemed to be on call 24 hours a day. He never said no to anyone. I just think he did a wonderful job. I think the city’s much better off than we were a couple years ago.”
“Mayor Selby made it clear to staff, when he was elected, that his major goal as mayor was to heal the community at a time when a lot of division and tension existed, and we believe he accomplished that,” wrote Anna Maria City Clerk Alice Baird and City Treasurer Diane Percycoe in a tribute to Selby.
“Where there is tension and division in the community, staff can see and feel that. Also, when Mayor Selby took office, we weren’t quite sure what his expectations would be of staff, and we were concerned at first, but Mayor Selby was very supportive of staff, and he valued our opinions. He was very dedicated to his job as mayor, spending lots of hours in the office dealing with day-to-day events, working on projects and meeting with staff and citizens.
“Mayor Selby is a very kind and gentle man, but can also be very firm and strong when needed. We remember Mayor Selby dressed as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus at local events and when he was held captive by the Privateer Pirates, and it always makes us smile. We will always have fond memories of our Mayor Selby, and we appreciate everything he did for staff and for the city of Anna Maria.”
As mayor, Selby was supportive of the organizations in town, and was fair and open minded, said Maureen McCormick, president of the board of the Anna Maria Island Historical Society, who worked on his campaign.
He worked with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office in Anna Maria to bring officers to an understanding of how much residents value the residential nature of the city, increasing their enforcement of noise violations, she said.
He accomplished the things he said he would try to accomplish, McCormick said, and “brought down some of the animosity.”
“He kind of brought the city back together during his tenure,” said Carl Pearman, who served with Selby on the city’s code enforcement board. He and his wife, Irene, are longtime RV traveling friends of the Selbys, and attended the launch of the last U.S. manned shuttle flight in Titusville, Fla. last year.
“He tends to be a peacemaker,” he said. “He’s likeable, personable, honest, and has a good business sense about him, which showed in his management while he was in office.”
And, everyone agrees, he’s also a good golfer and pickle ball player. The Selbys brought pickle ball to the Anna Maria Island Community Center, Pearman said.
Selby also serves as head of finance for Roser Community Church and will serve as a trustee this year.
The former California real estate developer, who served as a hovercraft pilot in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, happened upon Anna Maria by chance.
The Selbys had purchased an RV in San Diego and took off to find a better place to live. While on the way to Key West, they stopped to visit California friends who had moved to Anna Maria.
Mary Selby wanted to buy a place in the city immediately, but it took visits over the next two years, and Selby’s recovery from a ruptured brain aneurysm, before they made the move.
Now that his term as mayor is over, Selby and his wife plan to devote more time to golf, pickle ball, RVing and their five grandchildren.
As for the surprise announcement of the 2012 Person of the Year, “I think no one is more deserving,” DiCostanzo said.