ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As widely expected, Ken Welch is now officially a candidate for mayor of St. Petersburg.
The 57-year-old former Pinellas County Commissioner filed to run Friday morning at City Hall moments after he spoke with Spectrum Bay News 9 about why he hopes to lead the city that he was born and raised in.
“I’m so excited about the success that we’re seeing in St. Petersburg,” he said. “It’s not an overnight success. It’s the product of decades of hard work and planning, some false starts, and significantly, the sacrifice of thousands of folks who lived in the Gasplant area, who lived and worked and worshiped in the Gasplant and Deuces area, and that includes my family.”
Welch was joined by his wife Donna and his daughters Kenya and Keonna when he made his announcement. He went on to say that progress is about more than just building new things.
“It’s about advancing opportunities. It’s about uplifting neighborhoods. It’s about making sure everyone sees hope, even those who are bound by the impacts of poverty and crime and addiction. So at this point we’ve come so far as a city, but we need leadership progress that is inclusive. That is authentic towards what makes St. Pete great in the first place, and that’s built on a foundation of equity.”
Welch made it known two years ago that he was intending on running this year. In the fall of 2019 he created a political action committee, where he’s raised more than $58,000 so far.
The former county commissioner said that contending with the coronavirus is the “overriding challenge for everyone right now.” He says he hopes that the public health care crisis will have subsided a year from now when the next mayor takes office, and if elected he can concentrate on advancing opportunities and uplifting neighborhoods.
“It’s not just housing. It’s not just poverty. It’s not just crime or neighborhood safety. They’re all linked together,” he said, adding that’s one reason why local leaders in Pinellas and St. Pete worked to create the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) in South St. Pete back in 2015.
“Staff is used to CRA’s investing in things. In buildings and facilities. This CRA is the first of its kind in the county and it’s supposed to address poverty,” he said. “Invest in people so that they can lift themselves up out of poverty. I think we’ve gotten off to a good start, but one of my primary focuses will be utilizing those CRA funds to their highest potential to eliminate poverty in South St. Pete.”
Welch is the son of David Welch, who was elected to the St. Pete City Council in 1981 and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1991.
Another issue that all candidates for office in St. Petersburg are discussing this year are the plans to redevelop the Tropicana Field site. The city razed the predominantly Black neighborhood known as the Gasplant district in the 1980s to make room for the construction of the facility (the Kriseman administration received eight different proposals submitted by developers hoping to redesign the Trop site, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Friday).
“My grandfather’s wood yard was right at 5thAvenue and 16thStreet,” Welch recounted on Friday. “It was displaced by the (275) interstate. Our church was at 14thStreet and 4thAvenue. It was displaced by what eventually became Tropicana Field. Thousands of families. Churches and businesses were there. So Tropicana Field is not a blank slate. It’s a slate that’s etched with the sacrifice of an entire community. And so as we look at jobs and office space and transportation hub, and perhaps an expansion for a community center – all those things are important, but it needs to be done right. Not quickly.”
Welch now joins city councilwoman Darden Rice, former city councilman and state legislator Wengay Newton and USFSP student Michael Ingram in the race for mayor in St. Pete.
“My way of work and the way I was taught is be honest, be straightforward, tell folks what you’re bringing to the table. And let the people decide. I believe the people of St. Pete will make a good choice.”
The primary election takes place on August 24.