Raised at the top of Center Street with six siblings by a single mom working as a nurse and going to work yourself at age 12; well, the expression used by Michelle Kaufusi, candidate for mayor of Provo, Utah, rings so very true – “Provo raised me!”
Caras – “Where did your mom work as a nurse?”
Candidate Kaufusi – “She was at Utah Valley Hospital and she worked full time on the graveyard shift. At age 12, I jumped in and was trying to help out. I’d get home from school and clean houses and on the weekends. At that age, $5 is a feeling of being about as rich as you can be.”
Caras – “When you were just a bit older than 12 years I’d heard tell you worked at one of Provo’s most famous landmarks?”
Candidate Kaufusi – “At 16 years old I started working at Farmer in the Deli from 4 to 9 p.m. I’d close every night.”
Caras – “You’re running a close race and your opponent is also female, so either way, Provo is on the verge of seeing its first woman sworn in as mayor.
Candidate Kaufusi – For Provo no matter the winner it’s going to be the first time in the city’s 175 years a female will hold the office of mayor.
It’s not about being a woman and running or being elected because of being a woman. Granted, I love being out here campaigning and telling young women, young girls and all women to embrace politics and jump in. It’s about the ideas you can bring to the table that count.”
Caras – “You mentioned you’ve been running and knocking on doors in Provo for at least a year. And in that year of knocking doors you’ve come to do more than just talk to the resident in the doorway.”
Candidate Kaufusi – “It’s been an amazing experience that is just wonderful! I’ve been invited in to talk over a piece of pie just out of the oven. I was able to visit with one lady as I helped her make her bed. I’ve been given plants for my garden and garden starts. Provo and its people are just this way, and I love being a part of it.”
Caras – “And not your first campaign in the city?”
Candidate Kaufusi – “This will be Campaign number three. The first one came because I took something to the school board, was given my minute to be listened to. And then that was that. And I realized if I wanted to make a difference the way I wanted to, then I needed to be sitting in one of those board seats.
I put my name in and began a total grassroots campaign with the help of family and friends. My kitchen became Ground Zero and my daughter put a sign up that read, “Oval Office.” We won and I was elected to the Provo School Board. Was even elected for one year by my peers on the board to be board president.”
Of note, in 2014 Kaufusi ran unopposed for the school board seat, thus winning and still serving.
Caras – “Kaufusi is a pretty well known name in Provo and not necessarily for the politics of things. How is Coach Kaufusi dealing with the campaigning and you possibly becoming Mayor Kaufusi, wife of former NFL defensive lineman and now BYU football’s linebackers coach?”
Candidate Kaufusi – “He’s great! A wonderful big teddy bear who definitely is wondering what his title might be if there’s a win here – maybe, Provo’s First Man! He and the kids have been great through all of this, but it’s hard for them to hear some of the negative chatter about ‘mom’.”
Caras – “How’d you meet one of BYU’s great lineman and go on to marry him.”
Candidate Kaufusi – With a bit of a chuckle, “How did we meet? It was in Anaheim where we both were for the football game. Him to play in it and me as a Cougarette. My mom had strict rules that none of us got married until our senior year. So we dated and in our senior year got married.
Her rule stemmed from her life’s example and she knew man or woman, we needed an education to fall back upon. Steve was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and I graduated in Global Studies and we started our family in Philadelphia, but always knowing we wanted to return to Provo.”
Steve was born in the Kingdom of Tonga and at age eight came to Utah with his family where his father worked for the LDS Church.
Candidate Kaufusi – “We went back five years ago and it was a tremendous experience for us. I was able to go into the schools while I was there. I was very lucky to have had that privilege.”
Presently one of the Kaufusi boys, Bronson, plays for the Baltimore Ravens and another, Corbin, plays football for BYU. All of this has a bit to play into some of the favorite foods around the Kaufusi home.
Candidate Kaufusi – “I like to consider myself an amazing cook. I mean, when you have the size of husband and children I do – you have to be. I love to cook, and eat, a beautiful roast with potatoes and gravy.
As to my favorite food when we go out? I choose Mexican food or a great burger and fries and Diet Coke!”
Caras – “Here you are in a great battle for Provo mayor, yet today I’m interviewing you in the parking lot of the American International School of Utah in what most still refer to as the 49th Street Galleria. Smack dab in the middle of the Salt Lake Valley where no one can vote for you.”
Candidate Kaufusi – “It was a great experience and one I would never have turned down. It was all the Ninth Graders for their Humanities class. They were so prepared as to the questions they wanted to ask, especially about the Constitution”
Caras – “You mentioned a love of reading. What was the last book you read and what are you reading now?”
Candidate Kaufusi – “Just finished Underground Railroad, in fact, I’m so fascinated by it I’ve probably read most books out there written about it. And right now, when I have time to, I’m reading and loving The Poisonwood Bible.”
Caras – “As you go into this last week before the final day ballots can be cast, where is your head after one year of doing this?”
Candidate Kaufusi – “It’s all or nothing now. And I’m hoping I’ve earned their votes. And I’ve definitely come to know, it’s not about you! It’s about the people. The seat is theirs.”