St.Petersburg Elects First Black Mayor: Ken Welch

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On November 2nd 2021, St.Petersburg citizens voted on who would become their next mayor. The winner: Ken Welch. Mr.Welch will become St.Petersburg’s first Black Mayor. A few weeks before the election I talked to Mr.Welch about his policies and goals if he became mayor, to better inform the students of St.Petersburg High of who was leading their city.

 

My first question was “Right Now young voters are very vocal about their views. In what ways [would a Welch administration] support their interests if elected to office?”Mr.Welch responded saying “young people are very important.” One of Mr.Welch’s first jobs was a youth recreation leader and because of this “[he] has always been intune to [the youth].” He believes that “[we] need to do more than [just] plan policies but actually have interaction with them.” Mr.Welch then goes on to say that he plans to have a youth advisory committee. 

I then went on to ask the question: “An overwhelming amount of gen z voters believe climate action is needed. How [should we] plan to introduce change in our community?”Mr.Welch responded by saying “[we] need to follow the science.” “The sea level [is] rising [and] St.Petersburg is the epicenter for sea level rise [because] we are a peninsula within a peninsula.” In the past Mr.Welch has combated climate change on the local level with the fertilizer ordinance, which was to prevent red tide, and helped lead St.Petersburg and Pinellas county as the first green local government in Florida. Mr. Welch continued by saying “[he wants] to integrate the Sustainability Action Plan” and he wants “[an] assessment of all the facilities in the city” so that “we know how we can be more energy efficient.”

I followed up these answers by asking how he specifically plans to deal with the issues with waste water discharges into Tampa Bay and how he proposes how to make sure St.Petersburg is water resilient in the future? Mr.Welch starts by saying “[he] has served on Tampa Bay Water for many years[,]” which is a “regional wholesale drinking water utility that serves customers in the Tampa Bay.” “From a water resource side we are [in] a [good] place” but he believes we need to “integrate the Water Resource Master Plan in response to [the] sewage spills.” “That plan addresses [potable water, storm water, sewer water, reclaimed water] and is a two billion dollar plan [that is going to fix our pipes] make our [water] plants efficient, [and include] technology like smart sewers that can route where the waste is going.” Mr Welch then addresses the obvious cost that comes with implementing this plan. He says that while it might raise water rates, he hopes that the city can secure funding from President Biden’s Infrastructure Plan, which passed in congress last week.

    We then moved on to the issue of women’s rights. I asked about how “[on the weekend of October 2nd] [he] were present at the bans off our body protest where over 5,000 people showed up to defend women’s rights. If elected mayor in what ways would [he] address these people’s concerns? He responded by saying that he wants to “continue to speak out [in support of] women’s rights” and “it’s not up to a politician in Washington or Tallahassee to make [decisions about women’s bodies] for them.” 

    I next asked “How [does he] see the city supporting job opportunities for young people who decide not to go to college directly after high school?” He responded by saying “there are so many ways to make a great living [without a college degree]. He went on to talk about all of the opportunities from arts and music to construction and aquatics that don’t need a four year degree. He wants to “connect [high school] students with these opportunities, [so they] can find [their] passion.” Additionally he wants to “upgrade community centers” to provide them with “STEM” so that kids can grow up with different options.

   I continued on the theme of supporting the youth by asking “How are [he is] going to keep the city affordable for the young people who have grown up in the city and want to remain in the community, but currently can not because of the rent and mortgage prices continuing to rise?” He replied by saying that “[this] is one of the biggest issues that everyone is talking about.” He then goes on to say that “at the county [they] have created a trust fund of more than 100 million dollars that developers can use to offset the cost of construction and keep apartments affordable for [people] making [low wages].” Mr.Welch wants to make sure developers access the trust and he wants to add to that trust. He also adds that zoning policies are important in this conversation so that there can be garage apartments, and accessory dwelling units and so there is a variety of housing for those making average salaries.

   Then we talked about the importance of cultural diversity in St.Petersburg. Mr.Welch wants to make sure the city has an “ open door policy [so we can] make sure everyone has a seat at the table.” He then went onto talk about how as county commissioner he drove 1000 trips on Uber and Lyft to meet people from everywhere in the city. He says he wants to continue doing that while mayor and he wants to “have mayor’s night out.”

   I then asked about his plans for the redevelopment of Tropicana Field. He talks about how he grew up in the area and his grandads business and his church there. All of this and more was dislocated in “the pursuit of baseball.” He says that now “we have the opportunity to make good on the promises of jobs and economic development” for “housing, green space, and [more].” He wants to make sure that the city focuses on equity during the redevelopment.

   We finished up talking about how the community has been affected by COVID-19 and how he plans on revitalizing our community. He starts off by saying that the most important thing is to “keep the community safe and follow the science.” He then goes on to say that now with vaccines he wants to give the people all the information in hopes they become vaccinated. He then stresses the importance of “helping businesses get back on their feet” and that “vaccination is the most important [thing] in preventing and protecting from every new variant.” I then asked how he plants to make sure the community has the facts about safety protocols and vaccines. He plans on “continuing the conversation [and promoting the education]” and not “berating just educating” people. He also says he supports employers having vaccine requirements or testing requirements for workers.

Mr.Welch will take office on Jan. 6, 2022.