St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice is responding to recent scrutiny over mailers sent by her affiliated political committee (Friends of Darden Rice) that link fellow mayoral candidate Ken Welch to Donald Trump supporters.
After distributing the mailers, Rice was quickly criticized by Welch supporters for hypocrisy, as well for the use of stock images of Black individuals — an aspect that Rice apologized for in her statement.
However, Rice still stands strong by the claims, saying in her statement that Welch touted an endorsement from conservative Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who, she says, “has stood with Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis and has carried out regressive policies that hurt our community.”
The mailers cite a Tampa Bay Times article from March 19 titled “Ken Welch backers in St. Pete Mayor’s race include prominent Republicans” to support its claims.
“For the past week, I’ve been talking to a lot of people, including friends and supporters, who have contacted me disappointed by the mailers my affiliated political committee sent out,” Rice said in her statement. “I wanted to raise the real concern that my opponent Ken Welch has touted the endorsement of a sheriff who has stood with Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis and has carried out regressive policies that hurt our community.”
Rice also seemed to hit back at claims of hypocrisy.
In the days after the first mailpiece, several Welch supporters publicly decried the content as hypocritical. While it is true that Welch’s donor list and endorsers include Republicans, Rice also has numerous contributions from local Republicans, to the tune of thousands of dollars. Many of them are within former Republican Mayor Rick Baker’s sphere of influence.
“This is the height of hypocrisy — after Darden Rice spent the last week dropping bogus and patently false mailers to mislead voters, she doubled down during last night’s Black Caucus forum,” Welch previously told Florida Politics.
“Here are the facts — Darden has more Trump donors than anyone in the race; she voted to help big developers and then hit them up for big donations — that’s right after voting to limit campaign donations. Some people are willing to say and do anything to get elected — I will not.”
In her statement, Rice appears to push back, arguing that while the mailers may have missed the mark, she is still the race’s most progressive option.
“I have the most progressive voting record of any candidate in this race when it comes to equality and fairness. These are bedrock values to me and I feel fortunate to have people around me who will hold me to that standard,” she said in her statement. “As Mayor I will always listen, course correct when I miss the mark, and seek to make St. Pete a warm and welcoming place where everyone, no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, can find a place here to thrive.”
Rice also addressed the use of stock images of Black individuals. The first mailer showed a Black woman, arms crossed and looking annoyed, next to a claim that “Ken Welch is tied up with Trump backers.”
The second shows an older Black man seated with his arms crossed next to a similar claim.
“The truth about Ken Welch is that he’s endorsed by trump supporters and funded by Trump supporters,” the mailer reads.
Rice apologized for the use of such images in the mailers.
“But I obscured that message by using stock images instead of featuring Black community supporters. That was a mistake for which I apologize,” she said in her statement. “I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me, and I am taking these lessons with me throughout the rest of the campaign and as next your Mayor.”