Alder Nikki Conklin Talks about Representing Her Far West District: Representative Equity

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Alder Nikki Conklin poses in front of the Wexford Ridge Apartments where she has lived for the past 10 years.

Part 2 of 2

By Jonathan Gramling

Nikki Conklin, the alder for Madison’s District 9, isn’t someone who had the ambition since her youth to become an elected public official. As a single parent with two children, she was trying to survive and possibly succeed while living in the Wexford Ridge Apartments. But as it is for many, something happened that propelled Conklin forward. And through a succession of circumstances, Conklin was elected alder in April 2021.

It hasn’t necessarily been an easy transition with the pandemic limiting in-person, indoor meetings.

“Being an alder consumes a lot of time,” Conklin said. “And I think for me too, it is partially the pandemic. We’re still virtual. I still haven’t been able to be in the same space as all of the other 19 colleagues I have. We’re really playing at a disadvantage.

And of course, there are the marathon meetings going until 2-4 a.m. That is very time consuming and it takes up a lot of time. And I have to make sacrifices as it relates to my family and children. You have to dedicate time. It’s not just council meetings. We have boards, committees and

commissions. I have 5-6 committees that I am a part of. They meet once 1-2 times per month. It’s a lot of time that you have to dedicate to this position.”

Conklin is one of the few — if not the only one — who have been elected while living in a subsidized housing project with direct connection to people who have felt that their interests and needs haven’t been served.

“I feel that everyone needs to be heard, not just folks who have it all already,” Conklin said. “We need to start at the bottom and work our way up. If we enlist and empower everyone and bring them to the top, then we’re all successful. I don’t want to leave anyone behind. I know for far too long, a lot of communities have been left behind in District 9. And that’s what I am really working on, trying to connect and build relationships with all of the recognized neighborhood associations and all of the ones who aren’t recognized because I, much like a lot of other people, know that I was doing this work long before I knew what a neighborhood leader was or what a community organizer was. I was just doing the work.”

Conklin has had a very rewarding time so far learning how government works from the inside, a real-time civics lesson.

“The most rewarding thing about this job so far is, I would have to say, learning the process of how anyone has an idea and how we make a resolution to make an ordinance to make it a law,” Conklin said. “Just being able to learn this whole process of how the city actually works and to get that in-depth, background information to really make change. I have to learn the steps before I can fully make change. That’s what I am doing. I’m learning so much. I would never have been able to pay for this educationally. You have to get into this job and really get your feet on the ground to make headway. I think that is one of the most rewarding things. I’m really learning how to make change from the bottom up.”

And Conklin is already committed to helping those who come behind her and the people in her community know how government works.

“I’m helping others engage city government,” Conklin said. “I have people who watched my race and watched my campaign last season. Now they are thinking about running for Dane County supervisor. And they are coming to me asking me for any tips and what they need to know. I’m passing the information along because the more we know, the better we are going to do. I’m not going to keep that information to myself. I want everyone to be successful. I just had a woman yesterday whom I talked to and I’m just talking to her like a regular person. But then at the end, she asked for my endorsement. I was like, ‘Oh wow!’ Now the shoe is on the other foot. I remember doing all of this stuff last spring. But I wasn’t even thinking that she was going to ask me for an endorsement. I honestly thought she was asking me for some tips on how to run a campaign virtually. It meant a lot to me. And it was very heartwarming to know that folks are really looking at me in that professional manner of sitting at the Madison Common Council. I’m honored.”

In the end, representative equity matters.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” Conklin emphasized. “If it wasn’t for the support and the love and the encouragement from my community — just not in Wexford Ridge, but in District 9 and the city of Madison and Dane County — if it weren’t for those people really pushing me and encouraging me, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m thankful for everyone who believed in me and encouraged me and helped me get to this point. I couldn’t have done it alone. And I couldn’t be more blessed with where I’m at today.”

It is this different perspective that Conklin brings to the Common Council that will help create representative equity in the city of Madison that will be beneficial for all.