It was a historic morning for the city of St. Petersburg, with the inauguration of its first Black mayor. After testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, Ken Welch was sworn-in outside his home. Welch was born and raised in St. Pete. His father, David, was the city’s first Black city council member and ran for mayor in 1991. He began his virtual mayoral address with a look back at his childhood in still-segregated St. Pete.
“As a child of the civil rights era, I grew up in the areas of our city where my family lived not by choice but by sanctioned discriminatory practices that defined where African Americans could live in our city,” Welch said. “As a kindergarten and first grade student, I attended the last segregated classes at Melrose Elementary.”
Born and raised in St. Pete
Welch says he got to go back to his old elementary school for the Great American Teach-in in November, this time as mayor-elect. But the new mayor says this election isn’t just about making history, huge issues face the city and its residents. Starting with the rising cost of housing.
“The issue of housing demands a higher level of focus,” Welch said. “For example, St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area experienced a 24 percent increase in apartment rental costs just last year, the highest rate of increase in the nation. And we also have among the highest ratio of corporate purchases of housing stock in the nation.”
Historic day for city council
Newly-elected city council members Copley Gerdes, Lisette Hanewicz, and Richie Floyd were sworn-in outside on the steps of City Hall. Re-elected city council members Brandi Gabbard and Gina Driscoll were also sworn-in. For the first time, city council has three Black council members. Floyd is the first Black member elected north of Central Avenue. He is also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Hanewicz is the first Hispanic city council member. Welch says he hopes this new diverse administration can address the obstacles facing the city.
“It is important that we look at our diversity not as something that divides us, but rather it can be our greatest strength,” Welch said. “When we listen to each other and work to truly understand our viewpoint, we grow stronger collectively by building on our individual knowledge and strengths.”
Welch officially starts as the city’s 54th Mayor at City Hall on Monday.