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Politics / Issues

Read: Transcript of new St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch's inauguration speech

Ken Welch speaking during his virtual inauguration ceremony
City of St. Petersburg
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New St. Petersburg Ken Welch, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, gives his inauguration speech during a virtual ceremony on Jan. 6, 2022.

Ken Welch touched on various topics, including affordable housing, a focus on equity and inclusion, and growing up in St. Petersburg.

Here is a transcript of St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch's inauguration speech, recorded off his virtual ceremony.

Greetings. Greetings to the citizens of St. Petersburg, elected officials, friends and family, to our community partners, and the dedicated employees of our city. It is my distinct honor to address you today.

Although under unique circumstances, as the 54th mayor of the City of St. Petersburg, I want to thank everyone who has reached out with words of support. I am recovering, and my symptoms remain mild.

This is a significant moment for many reasons. It represents the breaking of another barrier. 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. As a kindergarten and first grade student, I attended the last segregated classes at Melrose Elementary. But during the Great American Teach-in in November, I returned to Melrose and spoke to students in the classrooms of two great teachers, Delia Michelle Doss and Natalie El Amrani. I spoke to these wonderful and engaging students who reminded me of myself many decades ago, and I spoke to them as mayor elect of our city. Now I know that some of the Melrose students are watching today. And so I'd like to give a shout out to the Manatees and to all the students who are watching this inauguration today. Thank you all for watching. Keep up the good work, stay safe. We are very proud of you.

So yes, this election is historic. But our goal is not to simply make history. Rather, we must work together to make a difference to make an impact for this generation, and for generations to come. Our collective vision will define what progress looks like for our entire city. Today, we embrace the people's desire for a community where every person is valued. Every idea is considered based on its merits, and where a common vision is forged based upon progress that is inclusive, innovative, informed, intentional, and in touch with all. The opportunities and the challenges before us are substantial, and require focus. Resolving these issues require straightforward dialogue, collaboration, and a sense of urgency. And I intend to lead us intentionally through this process, drawing from the city's amazing network of entrepreneurs, visionaries, educators , and business and cultural leaders. Coupled with the abundance of state of the art technology and innovation available in our innovation district, we will not only meet these challenges, but we will be positioned to maximize these opportunities for the benefit of our entire city for generations to come.

Now toward that end, I will be announcing a number of appointments to help position our administration for an aggressive posture on these emerging issues. The first of these is the appointment of Stephanie Owens as deputy mayor and chief of policy, and Tom Greene as the interim city administrator, Stephanie and Tom brings significant experience in strategic policy development, finance, operations and service delivery, and will drive my opportunity agenda model for St. Petersburg. In the coming days, I will announce additional appointments and organizational changes to address continuity of operations, emerging issues, and to maximize our effectiveness, efficiency and customer focus.

The issue of housing demands a higher level of focus. For example, St Petersburg in the Tampa Bay area experienced a 24% 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. Now based on the importance of this issue, and the rapidly emerging challenge of housing affordability, I am creating a high level position, the assistant administrator for strategic initiatives, whose first area of focus will be the preservation and development of a fordable and workforce housing. I'm appointing former neighborhood affairs administrator Rob Gurdes. To this role, Rob's record of collaboration, cross-functional project management, policy development and community engagement will serve us well in this important work. More initiatives and organizational changes will follow, including business process improvement, and the implementation of an effective Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program. We will move intentionally on minority contracting and supplier diversity. In response to the results of the disparity study and the findings of the structural racism report, we will also incorporate feedback from our community conversations held last month with nearly 500 residents and stakeholders participating over three days.

A key part of improving our city services, I believe, is listening to the people who do the work. To the more than 3200 employees of the city of St. Petersburg, I want you to know that you are valued. It is my goal to provide you with the tools that you need to set the standard for public service among city governments. And we will also listen to your recommendations for improving our operations, efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Now, let me be clear in stating that we have a great city, but we can be greater. One of the reasons that we are well positioned is because of the visionary work of our 53rd mayor, and my friend, Mayor Rick Kriseman. Thank you, Mayor Kriseman for your leadership, for your focus on equity, inclusion, community and economic development, and for your strong leadership during the unprecedented challenge of the COVID pandemic. Our city has become an incubator for new business and technology startups, a pioneer in innovative problem solving, a leader in creativity and cultural growth, a hub for medical and marine science research and discovery, and a thriving example of the live work, play and retire lifestyle. You have positioned our city for even greater progress. And I want to thank you, and First Lady Kerry, and Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Dr. Kanika Tomalin, and chief of policy and public engagement Kevin King, for your leadership of our city. I also want to thank our council members, who are key partners in the leadership of our city, to chair Gina Driscoll, and all of the current and former members of council. Thank you for your leadership, and for your spirit of collaboration that is fueled our individual discussions thus far. Our city success depends on us working together in a spirit of respect and collaboration. And I'm confident that we'll do just that.

Now I'm excited to work again with our friends on the county commission, including St. Pete's own Commissioner René Flowers, and incoming Chair Charlie Justice, who says he's from a place called the West Side. The city's relationship with our county commission is vitally important and greatly valued. Pinellas County provided funding for the pier and for the new police headquarters, tourist tax dollars to support our cultural institutions. They are a great partner in the creation of the South St. Pete CRA. And we continue to work closely with the county and our science-based response to the COVID pandemic. So as a step towards building a stronger working relationship, I have asked County Commission Chair Justice and City Council Chair Driscoll for a joint meeting of the County Commission, the City Council, and the mayor's office to discuss items of mutual interest — including our partnership with the Tampa Bay Rays. They have accepted and I'm looking forward to this meeting with our partners.

I'd also like to thank our congressional and state legislative leaders for your support and partnership from the federal American Rescue Plan and bipartisan infrastructure bill to state partnership on the Gateway Express, the SunRunner bus rapid transit, the first BRT in Tampa Bay, and the impactful decision to bring the new courthouse for the Second District Court of Appeal to St. Petersburg. When we can work together for these kinds of impactful initiatives, the positive impact on jobs and quality of life for our community is substantial.

Finally, I'd like to recognize our business community, including the arts community, for your investment in St. Petersburg. Your voice matters, and I look forward to working with you to support a culture and environment where business and the arts thrive. Now we were blessed during my campaign and this inauguration to feature the work of many local artists include including "iBOMS" Jabari Reed, Chad Mize, and Leo Gomez. The arts is a vital part of our culture and economy. And I remain committed to supporting the arts, to moving forward with purpose to support the planned expansion of the Woodson African American History Museum, and to advocate for an adequate and consistent level of funding to support the arts — a level of support that lives up to the moniker of city of the arts.

And as I close, I'd like to speak to who we are in St. Pete. Last week, we celebrated Kwanzaa. Umoja, the first principle of Kwanzaa, is reflected in the African proverb: "I am, because we are." I, for example, am a child of the gas plant where Tropicana Field now stands. I am a product of the last segregated schools in Pinellas and the first truly integrated schools. I am the son of Dr. David T. Welch, who served 12 years as a council member, and my mom Alletha, our queen, a pillar of wisdom, love and quiet strength. Love you, Mom. I am a husband to Donna, father to Keonna and Kenya, and our new and very rowdy family member, Sunny the rescue pup. And I have a huge and loving human family as well, including my sister Katrina. Sis, thank you for the wonderful song. My nieces Keina and Andresa, my nephew Tre, and many family members who are watching virtually today, thank you all for your love and support. I am a lover of Harleys, prints, football and music. And I play guitar every Sunday that I can at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

Now that is just some of my story. And everyone viewing this address today and throughout St. Pete has your own story that is just as important and personal, your own perspective and lived experiences. It is important that we look at our diversity not as something that divides us, but rather it can be our greatest strength. When we listen to each other and work to truly understand our viewpoints, we grow stronger collectively, by building on our individual knowledge and strengths. When we do that, we can — and will — move past the silos, the prejudices, the petty politics, and we will be able to build an inclusive path forward. The conversations may not be comfortable or easy. But as we demonstrated at our community conversations last month, it can be done. In fact, it must be done. Because we are in this together. We are that young person searching for an apartment that doesn't consume half their salary. We are that seniors looking for security in their retirement, as a cost of living and utilities continues to increase. We are the small business owner struggling to keep the family business open in the second year of a global pandemic. We are the young people who attended our youth summit in June and spoke to the mental trauma of living with an epidemic of senseless gun violence which plagues some of our neighborhoods. We are the LGBTQ students looking for acceptance instead of hostility and prejudice. We are the sons and daughters of the deuces and the gas plan, still waiting for the promises of equitable economic development made more than three decades ago. We are those hard working citizens who want their neighborhoods to be safe and healthy places to raise their families, not race tracks or firing ranges are dumping grounds for litter. We are a community that must make responsible decisions on infrastructure, environmental policy and resiliency, to mitigate impacts and adapt to the reality of sea level rise, and climate change. Friends we are all of those things and more. The power of our partnership is in our collective capacity for progress. And working together, we will move our city forward every day. We are St Pete, and as my father would say, it's time to get to work. May God bless you. And may God bless the city of St. Petersburg.