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Politics / Issues

Ken Welch wins election to become the first Black mayor in St. Petersburg history

Man stands at podium with people around him
Octavio Jones
/
WUSF Public Media
Mayor-Elect Ken Welch gives his victory speech becoming the first African-American Mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

Welch, a third-generation St. Petersburg resident, will be sworn into office on Jan. 6.

Ken Welch was elected the first Black mayor in St. Petersburg history Tuesday night.

Less than an hour after polls closed, Welch — a Pinellas County commissioner and third-generation resident of St. Petersburg — had bested City Councilman Robert Blackmon, 60% to 40%.

Hundreds of supporters gathered with Welch at the watch party outside the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in the historic Midtown neighborhood. He spoke about the influence of his father, a former city councilman who received death threats when running for mayor 30 years ago. Welch wore a button from his father's campaign on his suit lapel.

He also honored his mother, Alletha, who sat in the front row as Welch, his wife, Donna, and their two adult daughters joined him on stage.

"It is my distinct honor to be the first African American mayor of my hometown,” he said.

Ken Welch Mother SP Mayor 11-2-21
OCTAVIO JONES
Alletha Welch watches her son Mayor-Elect Ken Welch gives his victory speech becoming the first African-American Mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

Among those attending Welch’s victory party was State Sen. Darryl Rouson, (D-St. Petersburg).

"As an African American male in today's world, he took the dream of his father, made it his own dream and then turned it into reality,” Rouson said. “His story now makes history."

Rouson said Welch's story will help young black men and all young people "aspire to greatness."

Welch said his campaign was designed to be more than historic and that he will try as mayor to focus on improving the lives of all city residents.

“But let me be clear in stating that making history in and of itself has never been the focus of my campaign, nor will it be the focus of my administration," he said.

The general election for mayor pitted two men born and raised in what's now Florida's fifth largest city. Blackmon told Spectrum Bay News 9 that Welch was better known in the city and as a county commissioner.

“Mr. Welch does have a long-term, long-time reputation in the community, which is hard to overcome as I've only been on council about two years,” he said.

Man standing on corner waving at people and holding a sign
OCTAVIO JONES
St. Petersburg Mayoral candidate Robert Blackmon campaigns with his supporters in South St. Petersburg, Florida on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

Blackmon did say he encouraged his supporters to unify behind Welch, and that he plans to continue to be active as he finishes his term on city council.

“I'm still on the city council for another two months, serving the community the best way I can while I am still in elected office,” he said.

Both Blackmon and Welch used their local ties in a campaign that grew heated during the final weeks. Though Blackmon criticized Welch's financial donors and a long list of endorsements, Welch told supporters Tuesday night that it's time to look ahead.

"I also want to thank Robert Blackmon for his phone call a few minutes ago conceding the race,” Welch said. “I wish him well and it's time to move forward."

Welch, 57, will be sworn into office on Jan. 6. He succeeds Rick Kriseman, who has been St. Petersburg's mayor since 2014.

Ken Welch and Wife SP Mayor 11-2-21
OCTAVIO JONES
Mayor-Elect Ken Welch celebrates his victory with his wife, Donna, after becoming the first Black Mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.

In addition to the mayoral contest, four city commission seats were up for a vote, as were several charter amendments. Here are how St. Petersburg residents voted in the mayoral and city council races, according to the unofficial results:

City of St. Petersburg MayorPct.
Robert G. Blackmon40.02%
Ken Welch59.98%

City Commission District 1Pct.
Copley Gerdes53.47%
Bobbie Shay Lee46.53%

City Commission District 4Pct.
Lisset Hanewicz 54.27%
Tom Mullins45.73%

City Commission District 6Pct.
Gina Driscoll 70.25%
Mhariel A. Summers 29.75%

City Commission District 8Pct.
Jeff Danner49.89%
Richie Floyd50.11%
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