PROVO — Steve Kaufusi had just arrived at BYU’s team hotel in Henderson, Nevada, Thursday afternoon, when he received word: It was official. His wife Michelle is Provo's new mayor, the only woman to hold that office in Provo's 157 years of existence.
The BYU defensive football coach was busy preparing for Friday night’s BYU-UNLV game. He was unable to attend the official announcement made public after two days of counting ballots by Provo voters. He tried calling and texting his wife to no avail. He finally got in touch with her campaign manager who delivered the news.
This is how this mayor-coach deal will work most of the year: She’s in a meeting, he’s with the team.
A mayor’s husband.
I asked Steve that night how it felt to be the First Man of Provo, spouse of the mayor.
“If I heard that, I’d just keep walking on by you,” he said. “I answer to Steve and that’s who I am.”
Michelle Kaufusi, who prevailed in an election to replace John Curtis as Provo mayor, talks to journalists at an election night party at the Marriott Hotel in Provo on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Curtis won the special election to fill the 3rd Congressional District seat. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
The election of Michelle Kaufusi began earlier this year when John Curtis announced he would pursue the U.S. Congressional District 3 seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz, who retired before his term was finished. Kaufusi received 44 percent of the vote to defeat UTA board vice chairwoman Sherrie Hall Everett, who finished with 33 percent.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work, a lot of time, a lot of meetings, and I’m excited for her and very proud of who she is and the job she will do for the city,” Steve said. “We had a meeting with our family when she decided to run for mayor and let them know that their mother, my wife, had dedicated her life to all of us for 26 years, doing everything for us and now it was time for us to support her in this."
Michelle, the mother of a pair of BYU football players Bronson and Corbin, is a lifetime resident of Provo who was raised by a single mother with six siblings. Her older brother, the late Craig Garrick, was a lifelong friend and teammate of University of Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham at Provo High and BYU. He was also a teammate of Steve when a Cougar offensive lineman playing alongside current Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae.
Steve was introduced to Michelle by a mutual friend when both were in college. Michelle was a member of the Cougarettes and they dated. “Because I was a student-athlete and the scholarship was all I had, I couldn’t afford to marry her back then.
“When I graduated and went to the NFL, I was able to afford a ring and proposed and that’s where we began our life, back East, when I began making a little money playing professionally. We lived in Philadelphia while I played for the Eagles and we had two of our children there.”
Michelle gave up her dream of getting a college degree to be a wife and mother. She returned and got her degree this past year after a lot of study and long hours. Her life in public service began more than a decade ago when she volunteered at Rock Canyon Elementary School and then Timpview High. She later served on the Provo City School District board for seven years.
On election night, Michelle told Fox 13 TV she hoped to step into a leadership role in economic development and neighborhood building. She recognized the milestone it is to be the first woman ever elected as Provo’s mayor.
“I come from a family of strong women,” she said. “I want to pave the way for every other little girl to not think this is out of reach. It is in within our reach now.”
The new mayor will receive a salary commensurate with other cities the same size, a figure in the neighborhood of $110,000, plus benefits, according to reports of compensation for Curtis in 2014. It is a full-time job.
As if it wasn’t enough that coach Kaufusi has to answer to his wife, to his boss Kalani Sitake and to BYU fans, now he’s got to build a relationship with a politician who answers to voters.
Good luck to the Kaufusi team.
The offseason is a long ways away.