Photos by Jess Lynk
This story is part of a series. Read the rest of them here.
Sara Kurovski, the Pleasant Hill mayor, stood at the front of a room of 10 people at a Good Government for Pleasant Hill PAC meeting. At age 32, she is the youngest person in the room. You would never know by looking at her resume.
Kurovski’s path to mayor began when she was a child. She grew up building cities out of LEGOs. Today, she is helping build the city of Pleasant Hill, Iowa.
But she didn’t always know she was cut out to be mayor. Kurvoski says she made the excuses that she wasn’t qualified and that she had two small boys at home.
After reading the book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg, her perception changed. She read about how women say no to their career.
“I was reading a chapter going, ‘Oh my gosh, I just did that to myself,’” Kurovski says. “So I finished the chapter, closed the book … and I said, ‘… I am running for mayor.’”
Her husband’s response was, “It’s about time.”
Kurovski was elected mayor in 2013—the first female mayor of Pleasant Hill and the youngest mayor in central Iowa. This past November, she was re-elected after running unopposed.
The Bullsh*t Question
At the PAC meeting, Kurovski mentioned having a meeting every night of the month. A resident questioned how she does it.
When you ask Kurovski how she balances work and life, she’ll tell you about the time that she was presenting at Iowa State University to a room full of business students. Someone asked her how she balances life.
She called up the only man in the room and asked him how he deals with work-life balance. He said, “I have never been asked that question before in my life.” And she responded with, “That’s because it is a bullsh*t question for women.”
She thinks women need to refuse to answer that question because male or female, everyone is in the same situation.
“Everyone is juggling everything the best they can,” Kurovski says. “And I simply respond to where I am needed the most. Somedays, I have sick kids and I take the day off and am home with my sick kids. Some days when there is a lot of activity at the city, that is where I need to be. So you just respond and you go where you are needed and that’s all you can do.”
This question isn’t the only challenge she faces being a woman in local government.
“You have to decide very quickly if you are going to just let [things] slide or if you are going to stand up for yourself,” Kurvoski says.
When she was first elected, a mayor from a neighboring town asked her if she had her driver’s license. She responded: “I do. And I have my conceal and carry permit.”
A Seat at the Table
Leading Pleasant Hill isn’t all nonsense questions and stereotyping. Kurvoski loves problem solving.
Kurovski says she distinctly remembers a city work session about a construction project early on in her first term. The city wanted to start a project in front of the elementary school in August. Kurovski spoke up and mentioned that school starts in August. “Everyone went ‘Ohhh’ because they don’t have small children,” Kurovski says.
She says this was the moment she realized how important her seat at the table is. “We all have different perspectives that we can offer, we just don’t realize it until we are finally put into a situation where we see something that no one else is seeing.”
Kurovski believes that being a female mayor in central Iowa will soon no longer be atypical. As of November 2017, Kurovski is one of two female mayors in central Iowa.
“I absolutely love that the norm for [my] two little boys is that women are in elected office,” Kurovski says. “It is going to be very fascinating and impactful on their lives and how they perceive the world and women being in leadership positions because that is the norm for them.”
Kurovski is helping make this the new norm. When running her first campaign, Kurovski targeted women through Facebook advertisements. Her message was simple: “Pleasant Hill has never had a female mayor. Let’s get one. Support me on Election Day.”
“I heard feedback from different people that they didn’t know our city had never had a female mayor, and that made them vote for the first time,” Kurovski says. She won with 77.9 percent of the vote.
“This told me that the community was ready to do more and to change and that they were ready for my energy,” Kurovski says. “That was very exciting and frightening at the same time. I had just poured all this work into a campaign and now I was really going to have to do a lot of work. But I was ready for it.”
Ready she was. As Kurovski left the PAC meeting and headed into the rain, she was giddy about how invested in Pleasant Hill the 10 residents in attendance were. In her hand, she held a yard sign that said “Pleasant Hill moving forward.”