Former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch Friday filed his paperwork to run for mayor in his native St. Petersburg.
Around 10 a.m. Friday, Welch, along with his wife Donna and daughters Kenya and Keonna walked into City Hall to meet the clerk. It’s been a long time coming for the 20-year County Commission veteran and a move that runs in the family.
“I’m super excited for what’s about to happen today,”. he said. “In a few minutes I have an appointment with the Clerk to do the same thing that my dad did 30 years ago. And that’s to run for mayor of St. Petersburg.”
Welch’s father, David, served on the City Council in the 80s and was only the second Black council member elected in the city’s history.
A third-generation St. Pete native, Welch’s filing comes as no shock. He flirted with the idea of running 10 years ago but opted out. Last year, he chose not to run for reelection to the County Commission seat he’d held since the year 2000. He quickly racked up prominent backing from the likes of Congress member Charlie Crist and St. Pete Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman.
Progress is more than building new things
Welch said that while continuing to combat COVID-19 would be the over-arching challenge for any mayor, his priorities include smart growth for the city. That includes development that doesn’t shut out folks whose backs the city was built on. Like residents on the south side.
“Progress is a lot more than building new things,” Welch said. “It’s about advancing opportunity. About uplifting neighborhoods. Making sure that everyone sees hope, even those who are bound by the impact of poverty, including crime and addiction.”
While on the County Commission, Welch fought for the creation of a Community Redevelopment Agency in South St. Pete. He said one of the challenges is its uniqueness.
“Staff is used to CRAs investing in things. In buildings and facilities,” he said. “This CRA is the first of its kind in the county. It’s supposed to address poverty. It invests in people so they can uplift themselves out of poverty.”
The future of the Trop
Welch said one of his top priorities will be using CRA funds to combat poverty on the south side. He said he’d also focus on what becomes of Tropicana Field decades after its construction displaced many in St. Pete’s Black community.
“Tropicana Field is not a blank slate. It’s a slate that’s etched with the sacrifice of an entire community,” Welch said. “If you look at jobs and office space and a transportation hub. Perhaps an expansion for a community center. All those things are important but it’s got to be done right. Not quickly.”
Welch joins a growing field of candidates. Currently, the biggest competition includes council member Darden Rice and former State Representative Wengay Newton.
Mayor Rick Kriseman’s term-limit leaves candidates to vie for the open position.