Ken Welch wins St. Petersburg mayoral race, becoming the city’s first Black mayor

His opponent, Robert Blackmon, ran a campaign plagued with controversy.

Ken Welch will be the next mayor of St. Petersburg.

With this win, Welch makes history, becoming the city’s first Black mayor.

With 55% of precincts reporting as of 7:30 p.m., Welch has 61% of the vote, and leads Blackmon by more than 12,000 votes.

Welch, a Republican turned Democrat who served five terms on the Pinellas County Commision, led throughout his race against Robert Blackmon, a registered Republican, landlord, and city councilman for District 1 in St. Pete. Throughout the race, both Welch and Blackmon had snagged bipartisan endorsements.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor endorsed Welch, along with term-limited St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman. Former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker—who famously refused to sign a proclamation, acknowledging and celebrating the contributions of St. Pete’s LGBTQ community—was among Blackmon's most high-profile endorsements.

Blackmon’s campaign was plagued with controversy, too. He was blasted for tenant abuses over the course of his campaign, after nearly evicting three tenants at a property he owns earlier this year. Old inflammatory social media posts also surfaced, forcing a Blackmon apology.

Yesterday, one of Blackmon's last ditch efforts to get attention for his campaign took the form of a "Blexit" event in Child's Park attended by just 150-200 people. DC Draino—a right-wing troll—was also on the "Blexit" bill, along with GOP candidate Anna Paulina Luna. 

Welch, for his part, spent his Monday distributing Thanksgiving turkeys with former NBA great Magic Johnson.

Although the election was technically non-partisan, Florida Politics reported that of St. Pete's nearly 190,000 registered voters, more than 88,000 are Democrats while fewer than 50,000 are Republicans, giving Welch an advantage.

A major issue that came up during the race was what will be done with the Tropicana Field site. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Welch wants to prioritize promises never fulfilled when residents of the Gas Plant community were displaced to make way for the Trop. 

Welch received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of South Florida in 1985 and a master’s in finance from the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Ballotpedia says that Prior to his service on the Pinellas County Commission, he worked as an accountant for Progress Energy from 1987-2001, and as an associate vice president of business services at St. Petersburg College from 2006 to 2011. He is married with two daughters.

Welch's four year term as mayor will begin with a swearing in ceremony in January 2022.

See a statement from Welch below.

“First and foremost, thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Because of each  and every one of you here today we have made history. But this election is not about me, it’s because of the giants that came before me— it’s because of the inclusive progress we are working towards and that’s why we’re all here today. Because you all believe that together, as partners in progress, we will be able to reach new heights in housing affordability, because everyone deserves the dream of home ownership or a comfortable home that doesn’t break the bank. Because of you, we will work around the clock, along with our partners in law enforcement and the community, to find creative solutions to reduce crime plaguing our streets. Because of you — we are one step closer to reducing the effects of sea-level rise and climate change. And because of you, we will have incredible partners in progress on day one so we can hit the ground running on our opportunity agenda. Thank you again, St. Pete, for believing in our vision, you’ve never let me or my family down.”

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About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia previously wrote for the USA Today Network, The Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Scalawag Magazine, and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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