One of Pinellas County’s most prominent LGBTQ advocate groups is endorsing Ken Welch for St. Petersburg Mayor.
The Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County, which stands for equal rights in the LGBTQ community, is a chartered chapter of the Florida LGBTQ Democratic Caucus. They decided on endorsements for the St. Pete election after reviewing written responses of Democratic candidates followed by an interview by the organization’s Elections Committee. That committee made its recommendations to the membership who voted to support the recommendations.
For its support of Welch in the St. Petersburg Mayor’s race, the group cites his record on the Pinellas County Commission. The organization pointed to Welch’s 2008 motion to add sexual orientation to the list of protections for employment and housing under the county’s Human Rights Ordinance. The organization also looked to Welch’s 2013 vote to create a domestic partner registry in Pinellas County, as well as bringing forward and helping to pass a county human rights ordinance protecting transgender residents.
“Both of the top Democratic contenders in the mayoral race have excellent records on LGBTQ+ issues, but the Stonewall Democrats believe that Ken Welch is the best candidate to unify St. Petersburg, break down barriers across our city’s diverse neighborhoods, and continue to move the city forward,” Stonewall Democrats President Paul Ray said in a statement.
The organization recognized St. Pete City Council member Darden Rice, who, if elected, would be the first openly LGBTQ leader to run the city.
“We would also like to acknowledge our appreciation for the trailblazing nature of Council Member Darden Rice’s runs for office and her support of the LGBTQ+ community,” Ray said in a statement.
The endorsement also comes after Welch compiled a slew of endorsements from members of the LGBTQ community, which may provide Welch a boost among LGBTQ voters, a bloc that fellow mayoral candidate Rice has also been appealing to. Rice has garnered support from pro-LGBTQ groups Equality Florida Action PAC, LPAC, and LGBTQ Victory Fund, making the Stonewall Democrat’s endorsement of Welch a bit of a twist.
The LGBTQ community is an important bloc for candidates, with St. Pete being one of the state’s most gay-friendly cities. Since 2014, St. Pete has earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI), which examines municipalities’ laws, policies, and services and rates them based on their inclusivity of LGBTQ people who live and work there. And, the city is host to the state’s largest Pride celebration.
The committee also endorsed Copley Gerdes for City Council District 1, saying that in his interview, Gerdes shared how he has worked as a financial planner to broaden outreach to the LGBTQ community for his company. He also demonstrated a keen understanding of issues important to his district and the issues across St. Petersburg, the organization said.
For City Council District 4, the organization backs Clifford Hobbs III, who would become the first openly gay person of color on the Council if elected. The Stonewall Democrats believe he will bring new ideas to address LGBTQ and other Democratic issues to the Council.
The organization endorsed local teacher Richie Floyd for City Council District 8 for his strong record of advocacy and knowledge of the issues, but the Stonewall Democrats emphasized that both candidates are strong on LGBTQ equality issues, and both have bright futures in public service.
In the District 6 race, which will not appear on the ballot until the General Election because it only drew two candidates, the committee endorsed Mhariel Summers, who would become the first openly gay woman of color on Council. The organization cited her knowledge of local LGBTQ issues.