Nationally recognized juvenile justice expert Irene Sullivan is backing Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch in his bid for St. Petersburg Mayor.
Sullivan, a former juvenile and family court judge in St. Pete and Clearwater, is known for her work on juvenile justice advocacy.
“Ken Welch is a leader and problem-solver who never shies away from tough issues. I know this first-hand because I worked closely with him on implementing pre-arrest diversion programs for Pinellas juveniles caught committing low-level offenses,” Sullivan said in a statement. “It made our community a leader in the state and nation for effective juvenile justice. Nobody understands St. Petersburg better than Ken. He will be a great Mayor, and I enthusiastically endorse him.”
She has published several books on the matter, and now serves on an assortment of boards involving children’s issues. She has also received multiple national and local honors for her work and has been inducted to the Stetson University College of Law Hall of Fame.
“What an honor to earn the endorsement of Irene Sullivan, who is recognized across the world as a giant in the field of juvenile justice,” Welch said in a statement. “Working closely with educators, law enforcement, the courts, and others, we embraced innovative ways to help our young people succeed, and as Mayor I am eager to think outside the box and innovate in every department to better service our residents.”
Sullivan’s endorsement comes on the heels of Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announcing his support for Welch.
Welch is scooping up endorsements in the race quickly, earning nods from several former colleagues — Commissioners Pat Gerard, Charlie Justice, Janet Long and Karen Seel. Seel is a Republican. He also earned an endorsement from now-Commissioner Rene Flowers, who replaced Welch on the Commission, as well as City Council members Deborah Figgs-Sanders and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman and former City Council members Charlie Gerdes and Connie Kone.
Perhaps his top-name endorser is U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who is now running for Governor.
No other candidate has received as many endorsements as Welch from local supporters.
Welch’s slew of endorsements could help him as he navigates a race that just got more complicated.
Before last week, insiders largely believed the race to be a matchup between Welch and City Council member Darden Rice. But Robert Blackmon, who Rice supported when he was first elected to the Council less than two years ago, threw his name into the hat. He’s one of just two Republicans currently on the City Council dais.