Ken Welch, who served 20 years as a Pinellas County commissioner, has filed paperwork to run for mayor of St. Petersburg.
“I’ve been asked to run over the years but it had to be the right time,” Welch told the Catalyst Friday. “I’m only the second African American to be on the county commission and I didn’t want to leave that until we got to a point where we had properly addressed things like equity and economic issues. We’ve got a great commission now and a great administrator, so I was comfortable it was the right time.”
During his tenure on the commission, Welch, a third generation St. Pete resident whose private sector work has been in accounting, IT and business process improvement, served on numerous boards focused on diverse issues including community and economic development, housing, transportation and public safety. Through his leadership, Community Redevelopment Areas were implemented to reduce poverty across the county, and he helped bring in $100 million in new local funding for housing.
However, despite having a father who served as a city council member in the ‘80s and ‘90s and once ran for mayor, Welch didn’t grow up with political aspirations.
“As a teenager, I always said I would never do what my dad did,” he said with a laugh, noting that he wore his father’s campaign button when he went to City Hall to submit his filing Friday morning.
The city has come a long way since then, Welch said, but there’s still plenty of work to be done to create opportunities and enhance the quality of life for St. Pete residents. If elected, one of his focus areas will be on the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. Growing up in South St. Pete, he saw firsthand the impact of what happened when the neighborhood was razed to make way for the baseball stadium. Families, churches and businesses were displaced but residents were promised there would be an economic payoff.
“The promise wasn’t baseball – it was jobs,” he said.
Welch said he plans to spend the weekend reading through RFPs – which were due Friday – to get a sense of what developers are envisioning for the site.
“What was lost there wasn’t as much as the physical assets but the sense of community,” said Welch, who believes jobs and economic development should be the priority in redeveloping the site. “How do you rebuild that? We have to be creative to address the legacy of Tropicana Field.”
Beyond that, Welch said he wants to see the city continue to make progress in a way that’s inclusive, authentic and built on a foundation of equity that uplifts everyone.
“It takes unifying leadership to do that, and I think the time is now for that type of leadership in our city,” said Welch, who plans to do plenty of online outreach until more people get vaccinated against Covid-19.
Welch has already picked up endorsements from Congressman Charlie Crist and city council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, with plans to announce more in the upcoming weeks. Financially, he’s raised just over $58,000.
Other candidates seeking the mayoral seat include city council member Darden Rice, who announced she was running earlier this week, former state representative Wengay “Newt” Newton and Michael Ingram, a political science major at USF. Due to term limits, Mayor Rick Kriseman will not run again. A primary election will be held Aug. 24. If none of the candidates gets more than half the vote, the top two will advance to the Nov. 2 general election. The winner will take office in January 2022.