Despite living across the country from each other, Mayors Joyce Craig of Manchester, NH and Michelle Kaufusi of Provo, UT have quite a bit in common. Both women were elected as mayors of their mid-size cities last November and took the oath of office on Jan. 2. And, more notably, both are making history as the first women to be elected mayor in their cities.
Craig and Kaufusi each noted they did not run on a platform that focused on being a woman, but rather on their qualifications. Craig's agenda includes measures for education, economic development and addressing the city's opioid crisis. Kaufusi's agenda includes initiatives for service and volunteerism, youth health and well-being, the arts and helping illiterate women learn to read.
The mayors spoke with Smart Cities Dive about the importance of being the first woman elected to such a leadership position in their communities, and the messages they have for other women who hope to follow their lead.
The following interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.
SMART CITIES DIVE: Why do you think it's important that you were elected as your city's first woman mayor?
JOYCE CRAIG: I think it’s important that other young women and women in the area know that this is an option for them. Up until now when you walked into city hall, you would see all of the pictures of the former mayors of Manchester and they’re all male. Now, this is something that young girls growing up in the city know is an option for them to aspire to.
There’s a desire here in the city, from within the community, to work together to make our city a better place. To me, what I hope to do and focus on as mayor of Manchester is really bringing the community together to feel like they are contributing to making Manchester a better place and a welcoming place for all people.
MICHELLE KAUFUSI: The biggest thing is just to shatter that glass ceiling. It’s never been done [here] before. The minute you hear that a lot of women probably feel discouragement, and the minute I hear that, I think, “Now I’m gonna do it for sure.” The most important thing is not even that it was me, but that the glass ceiling of no women having been elected to be the mayor of Provo has been shattered, and now it opens the door for everyone and anyone.
We actually had a breakfast ... with a bunch of moms and daughters and grandmas. It was so delightful to speak with those young girls and hear their moms say, "This is the first lady mayor!" And me telling them, “And you can be the next lady mayor of Provo!” They need to see that they’re capable and that it’s a possibility.
Do you feel like it has taken more effort for you to get to this point because you're a woman than it would have for a man?
CRAIG: Possibly, but nothing really comes to mind in terms of specific examples. Probably even more than that is my stature. I’m small... [and] I’m sure that played a role... but I didn't see it firsthand.
One thing that’s important to me is I ran for this seat two years ago and I lost by 64 votes. So just as important as seeing a woman in this position is also for them to see that if they continue to work hard and go after what they believe in, they can achieve it. I didn't give up, I kept at it and worked harder than ever and won the seat. The resilience and work ethic in believing that you can achieve something if you put your all into it is just as important to me as a woman holding a seat.
"The resilience and work ethic in believing that you can achieve something if you put your all into it is just as important to me as a woman holding a seat."
Mayor, Manchester, NH
KAUFUSI: It absolutely has taken more effort, and much more time.
I get asked questions that no man would ever get asked. For instance, do I have a college degree? Which I do. Or, do you still have children at home? No man would ever be asked that if they were out knocking on doors. It’s been a lot more effort, and I also feel like I’m under the microscope. I feel like I’m being watched. Every move I make, someone has something to say, even about the clothes I wear. It’s really fascinating.
I was talking to the previous executive assistant and she said never once — and she had gone through four mayors, I believe — had she received a call about something one of the mayors was wearing in an interview. That was another example of how we women still have a little bit of an uphill climb.
What message do you have for other women who might have the desire to get into public office?
CRAIG: We can achieve what we set out to achieve. We have to work hard and get the community behind us. If you have a burning desire to do something and feel you can make something better, go out after it.
KAUFUSI: I think a lot of women don’t step out into the public eye because you have to become very vulnerable. And that’s scary for women. We have soft hearts and tend to be more sensitive. But I’ve learned through my seven previous years holding political office, and now this, that you can still have that soft heart and be very real and still be a difference maker and policy changer. You don’t have to be this stoic, hard-faced, staunch woman with a chip on her shoulder trying to prove a point.
You actually will get further if you come in with what is inside you, which for women tends to be the ability to nurture and problem-solve and heal. Let those natural abilities and traits come to the surface.