When Kelly K. Rifelj was encouraged by a Wauwatosa alderwoman to launch a write-in campaign ahead of the spring elections, she admitted she was a little hesitant at first.
Rifelj is already highly involved in the political campaign of her husband, Paul, who is running for a full six-year term as a judge Milwaukee County circuit court. He was appointed to a vacancy in Branch 31 of the court in December by Gov. Scott Walker. She thought running for local office in Wauwatosa could add more to her already full plate.
But then Rifelj attended a meeting at city hall and she was hooked.
'They don't have total control over the neighborhood, but they have all these ideas to tweak it to make it great,' Rifelj said of the alderpersons during the meeting. 'I thought, 'That is awesome.''
Rifelj has launched a write-in campaign for the 6th District in Wauwatosa. The seat was left vacant late last year after Alderman Jeffrey Roznowski filed for non-candidacy. Rifelj is the second candidate to seek the seat. Wauwatosa resident Craig Wentzel, 64, announced in January he would run a write-in campaign for the position.
The District 6 seat is poised to be just the second contested race in Wauwatosa come spring elections April 5. Wauwatosa residents Joe Johnson and Nancy Welch will battle for the city's District 3 spot.
Rifelj, 38, said she has lived in Wauwatosa for a decade. She taught French at Whitman Middle School and worked as a student supervisor at Wauwatosa West High School during the 2002-03 school year. Rifelj also has taught in Verona and Glendale, she said.
It was her experience working in the Wauwatosa School District that convinced her the school system was one that her children could someday attend. Rifelj has two young children, a daughter now at McKinley Elementary School and a son still in preschool
Rifelj earned a masters degree in public affairs in 2007. She later took up a job working for Goveror Jim Doyle's southeast Wisconsin office from 2008 to 2009. She currently studies the transition from high school to college for first-generation college students, working under a professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Wauwatosa resident said there's not one sole issue drawing her to run for office, although she said she believes the city has been run well by elected leaders.
'If I want to maintain what's here, the vibrancy, then I need to be a part of working to put all the policies (in place),' she said.
If elected, Rifelj said she hoped to work toward enhancing public safety. Communication between law enforcement and the city's common council will help reduce crime while bolstering the perception that Wauwatosa is a safe community, she said.
'Police are doing their jobs,' she said. 'They're dealing with a lot of crime coming in from Milwaukee.'
Rifelj said, if elected, she wouldn't have any preconceived notions of issues, but instead is interested in understanding different perspectives and gathering information without spinning the facts.
'I'm a learner,' she said. 'I'm somebody that wants to know what the truth is. I look for evidence. I look for what is the truth without politics getting in the way. I look for, and I'm open to, knowing what is the truth and what is the best way forward.'
Come election day, the write-in candidate receiving the highest number of votes will win the race. If there are no votes for write-in candidates, the common council will appoint an alderperson.
Find Kelly K. Rifelj's campaign page on Facebook by searching 'Kelly K. Rifelj for Alderwoman,' or visit on.fb.me/1QhhbXD.