THE ANCIENT CITY'S NEXT PHASE
While St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary has brought immense challenges and international attention, the city’s outsider Mayor looks to prove she is up to the task
After a career in the male-dominated corporate world, Shaver, St. Augustine’s second female mayor, says she “never really [thought] about gender.”
Shaver, at home in the historic Lincolnville neighborhood in downtown St. Augustine.
“I was a competent person at the right moment in time,” Shaver says of her 2014 campaign for mayor.
PHOTO BY DENNIS HO
PHOTOS BY DENNIS HO
Posted: Wednesday, August 26, 2015 12:00 pm
by KARA POUND
Nancy Shaver isn’t your typical politician. In fact, before beating out incumbent Joe Boles and subsequently being sworn in as the new mayor of the City of St. Augustine in December 2014, Shaver had never held political office. That is, unless you count the time she was student council president of her high school back in the early 1960s.
Yet, despite her lack of experience, she’s having some early success.
Over the past nine months, Shaver’s supporters say, she has delivered on her promises of a transparent government that focuses on infrastructure, mobility, and zoning issues. Then there’s the infamous 450th Celebration that, until recently, didn’t have a leg to stand on. Her supporters say the 450th, which kicks off Sept. 4, is now on much firmer footing.
Shaver’s a mother, grandmother, art collector and music lover. She’s had a long, successful career working in marketing, management and consulting for various data information companies. She’s led a Fortune 500 marketing organization, and founded her own consulting practice.
And at age 68, Shaver’s had enough life experiences to know that being a politician is about more than just kissing babies and schmoozing at fancy municipal events. It takes hard work, dedication, accountability and reading in between the lines.
• • •
It’s a Monday night in mid-July in the Alcazar Room on the first floor of City Hall on King Street in downtown St. Augustine. A bi-monthly city commission meeting is in full swing.
Shaver is sitting in the middle, fellow commissioners Todd Neville and Nancy Sikes-Kline sit to her right, Leanna Freeman and Vice Mayor Roxanne Horvath to her left.
After roll call and the modification and motion to approve the meeting’s regular agenda, Shaver is presented with a certificate of completion from the Florida League of Cities Institute for Elected Municipal Officials.
She makes a few public comments about the recent three-day training event — how it was great to connect with other elected officials in the State of Florida — and then, looking out toward the crowd of 50 or so citizens, through her signature asymmetrical silver bob hairdo, Shaver says, “And I got to drink some wine, which I actually paid for myself.”
When later asked about this comment, Shaver says, “The reference to wine, and paying for it myself, was twofold. First, the city does not reimburse for alcohol. Second, earlier in the year, I chose to pay my own way to the Gala, as I felt it was more appropriate.”
Shaver is referring to the Menéndez Noche de Gala, which was held in late February at Casa Monica Hotel, and was reported to cost the city more than $3,000 to cover the cost of city leaders and officials from Spain to attend. Tickets were $195 apiece.
Whether it’s a $5 glass of wine, a ticket to a fancy gala or the uncovering of wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money, Shaver has, thus far, presented herself as a woman of
• • •
Shaver was born on Nov. 5, 1946 in Mount Kisco, New York, an hour’s drive southwest from her grandparents’ home in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was a C-section baby; Mount Kisco had the closest hospital that could perform the surgery.
“I’ve lived a lot of different places, but I mostly grew up in Virginia, outside of D.C., because my dad was working at the Pentagon,” Shaver explains from the sunroom of her modest, one-story home in Lincolnville, a historic neighborhood in downtown St. Augustine.
“It was always classified what he did,” she says. “He was running the atomic bomb tests that we did in the desert. He ran the tri-service agency that did those. He would never travel and then he’d travel and then the front page of the Washington Post would have a mushroom cloud on it.”
Shaver describes her father, an engineer and captain in the U.S. Navy, as a brilliant man with a photographic memory who didn’t talk much. The two bonded over games of Acey Deucey and Backgammon rather than conversation.
The oldest of three siblings (she has two younger brothers), Shaver isn’t as kind when describing her mother.
“She was not a nice mother,” she says. “She was basically someone who was not meant to be a mother, and she particularly wasn’t meant to be the mother of a girl. She was of that generation where she kind of gauged her sense of self by how attractive she was to men.”
Since her father was in the military, the Shaver family moved around a lot, about once every three years, from Philadelphia to San Diego and everywhere in between.
“I loved it,” Shaver says of being constantly confronted with a new environment. “My dad always explored wherever we moved to, so many weekends, we had family trips to see something of interest. And making new friends just seemed very natural to me.”
• • •
After high school, Shaver earned a B.A. in English from Wellesley College, a private women’s liberal arts school outside of Boston (one of the Seven Sisters), and an MBA in quantitative coursework from University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
At age 19, Shaver married her first husband, a punter on the Harvard University football team. He proved to be a dissolute gambler.
“As soon as I got pregnant, it was just pretty bad,” she says. “He forged my name on notes, on loans. And so I left. The minute I had my son, I knew that I had to take care of myself and take care of that child. It was just this visceral feeling.”
At age 24, Shaver took her newborn son and moved back to Culpeper, Virginia to live with her parents. They were not thrilled with the arrangement.
“I wound up finding a job that I could walk to,” she says. “I didn’t have a car. I was knocking on doors to get childcare for my son in the neighborhood, which I was able to do. I saved until I got a car and then saved until I got an apartment and that’s how my life started.”
Shaver, whose only job had been teaching school, took a position with a company focused on targeted marketing. She became fascinated with data and how the information gathered could help the business make educated decisions.
Over the next few years, Shaver ascended the corporate ladder, gaining experience in data and management from a wide array of start-up companies and established corporations.
She also met her second husband and the father of her daughter.
“We were married, but it was really falling apart,” Shaver says of the end of their relationship, which lasted until the early 1990s. “He was an attorney in town. He was an alcoholic and also promiscuous, which I didn’t know. So I took a job in Long Island and brought the kids with me.”
For a few years, Shaver’s husband would come up from Virginia and visit on the weekends but, eventually, the marriage ended.
“The three words that come to mind when I think of my childhood are simple, consistent and supportive,” says Jenn Mintz, Shaver’s now-34-year-old daughter, a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who lives in Charleston, South Carolina.
“This is despite a few moves and the divorce of my parents,” she continues. “Wherever we were, my mom was consistent in her presence and in providing boundaries, generous in her love and support and tried to keep our home and our lives as simple as possible.”
Shaver’s son, Sean Bennett, now in his mid-40s, holds an MD-PhD and lives in San Francisco, running the Global Pediatric HIV trials for Gilead Sciences, a research-based biopharmaceutical company.
“She worked hard professionally and was successful in that arena,” Mintz says of her mother. “But she was undoubtedly a mother first. I feel like her primary motivation and the sacrifices she made were to provide for my brother and me.”
• • •
Fast-forward to the mid-2000s. With both of her children grown and decades of professional experience behind her, Shaver established her own consulting firm in Denver, Colorado. She also started spending more time at her second home, a modest cottage in Belfast, Maine.
“One night, I was throwing a party to celebrate my new weathervane,” she remembers. “That’s the night I met Sean, the love of my life. As soon as he walked up the porch steps, it was all over. It was all over for both of us. We were two peas in a pod. Everything about it was just comfortable.”
Shaver relocated from Denver to Maine to be with Sean, a sailor and a carpenter, and the two became inseparable.
A few years into their relationship, Sean was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Shaver became his medical manager; digging into data, researching medical trials and even going to Seattle for stem cell treatment.
“I think there was a 60 percent chance of success and you always think you’ll be on that side,” she says. “You never think you won’t be on that side. And we wound up on the other side.”
Stem cell treatment didn’t work. Sean was given six months to live.
The couple decided that they shouldn’t spend Sean’s last winter in Maine and a friend suggested St. Augustine. They found a house on South Street — not far from Maria Sanchez Lake in Lincolnville — quickly renovated it and made the move down South. This was at the end of 2009.
They spent the next six months surrounded by friends, family and, most important, each other. On July 30, 2010, Sean passed away due to sepsis, which is the complication of an infection. Shaver needed something to occupy her broken heart.
• • •
"After he died, I started to pay attention to the city. There was an article in the [St. Augustine] Record about the coral farm on Riberia Pointe,” she says, referring to a proposed coral-growing development slated for a four-acre site in downtown St. Augustine.
“My daughter’s a marine biologist, so I thought, ‘If somebody’s restoring coral reefs, NOAA will know about it,’” she continues. “And they claimed a NOAA connection. So I called her and she checked and she said, ‘Mom, nobody’s doing that and nobody’s heard of these people.’”
Shaver kept uncovering similar proposals earmarked for the same patch of city-owned land, including a children’s museum and a full-scale aquarium. She also publicly questioned the transparency of the 450th Celebration and the lost revenue from the event’s Picasso exhibit.
“We continued to discuss the challenges and issues facing the city,” says good friend Margaret Rocker. “One afternoon, she called to tell me she had decided to run for mayor. After my initial surprise, I knew she would win. She’s smart and dedicated to finding the best solutions for the city.”
Armed with zero political experience, Shaver had her work cut out for her. Sure, her corporate résumé was impressive, but would that win over the people of St. Augustine? Especially up against incumbent Mayor Joe Bole, who had been mayor since 2006?
“I worked really hard,” Shaver says of winning the November 2014 mayoral race by just over 100 votes. “A lot of people worked really hard. It was a grassroots kind of thing.”
She continues, “I was a competent person at the right moment in time. The demographics of the city have changed. Over half of the people have moved here in the last 10 years and they have higher expectations of how their city should be run.”
Shaver is only the second female mayor of the city of St. Augustine and first elected directly by the voters. The job pays just $20,000 a year.
“What’s funny is that I didn’t even think about gender,” she says. “Because I haven’t in my whole working life, and I basically worked in male-dominated spaces, so it just never occurred to me. I’m not ego-driven. It’s really about the task and the work.”
The 450th Celebration (Sept. 4-8) has taken shape and Shaver has begun focusing on the other issues that, she feels, are plaguing the Nation’s Oldest City: zoning, mobility, infrastructure and a lack of transparency.
Shaver has helped put in motion water rate studies, assessment of city infrastructure, updated zoning codes, a comprehensive plan to combat congestion on the city’s narrow roads.
If she doesn’t yet have critics, like all public officials, Shaver will have some soon enough. So far, though, her status as a political newcomer and outsider have allowed her to implement her plans under a certain level of good faith from her constituency.
“I know what I want to accomplish and if it takes two years, or if I run again and it’s four years, it is what it is,” Shaver says of her term, which ends at the close of 2016. “I don’t set myself up to do something where I don’t know what I want the outcomes to be.”
She continues, “If you are capable and you leave it to someone less capable, then you kind of get what you get. You have a duty if you feel that you are more capable. And so I ran.”