The Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board released its endorsement for the upcoming St. Petersburg mayoral election Thursday. Its choice: former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch.
Welch, who has raked in a slew of endorsements in the past few days, from the city’s LGBTQ community to local faith leaders, was selected by the Times Editorial Board among the race’s eight candidates.
According to the endorsement, the board chose Welch because he can “maintain the city’s momentum.”
“Whoever takes charge after Mayor Rick Kriseman must also be up to other challenges: Negotiate with the Tampa Bay Rays. Champion the best plan for the Tropicana Field site. Create more affordable housing. Prepare the city for sea-level rise. And keep crime in check,” the board wrote. “The mayor must build bridges, not pick pointless fights. Be tough when it’s called for, but understand the power of humility. Listen to neighborhood residents. Have a vision for how much greater the city can be in 10 years.”
The Times Editorial Board credited Welch’s cool temperament as an advantage to work with the Rays in figuring out their place.
“Welch likely would be more constructive and less combative than the current mayor, though he also understands that the city must strike a good deal with the team,” the editorial team wrote.
While listing the challenges the future Mayor must face, the board also addressed Welch’s record.
“On the commission, Welch championed programs to help homeless people, including the county’s first homeless policy group,” the board wrote. “Welch recognizes how better schools and more jobs mean less crime and safer neighborhoods. And he emphasizes that sewers and stormwater projects aren’t as exciting as building a new Pier or stadium, but they cannot be ignored.”
In addition to his progressive policy points, the board also pointed to Welch’s personal aspects. If elected, Welch would serve as the city’s first Black Mayor. providing the city a chance to heal the wounds of a challenging racial past.
“With his family connection to the Trop site and as St. Petersburg’s first Black mayor, he would be uniquely suited to ensuring the redevelopment honors what he calls ‘the original promise of shared benefit and prosperity for the entire community,'” the board wrote.
While awarding the endorsement to Welch, the board did recognize the other candidates’ strengths.
The board listed City Council members Darden Rice and Robert Blackmon, along with former Rep. Wengay Newton and restaurateur Pete Boland, as other credible candidates.
For Rice, her mailers linking Welch to supporters of Donald Trump once again came to disparage her own campaign, according to the board. But, the board did credit her work on environmentalism.
“She is strong on environmental issues and has an astute understanding of why the city must prepare for sea-level rise,” the board wrote. “Given her generally good record, we were disappointed by Rice’s far-fetched efforts to link Welch to former President Donald Trump. The nonpartisan mayoral contest is no place for partisan smear campaigns, especially ones with no local relevance.”
Blackmon’s record was also praised by the Times, which wrote that he “has a record of getting things done.”
“He’s a nimble thinker who has brought intriguing ideas and energy to the council and the campaign,” the board wrote.
As for Newton, the board applauded his compassionate leadership and genuine passion for the city.
“He leads with his heart and has a genuine passion for improving the lives of St. Pete residents, especially in the parts of the city that he calls the ‘areas of greatest neglect,'” the board wrote.
The Times also credited Boland, calling the local restaurant owner “a breath of fresh air in the mayoral race.”
“He describes himself as conservative-leaning, while supporting the city’s Pride events and eschewing partisan politics at the city level,” the board wrote.
But, according to the Times, Welch still remains the best choice.
“Although these candidates bring various points of appeal, Welch clearly emerges with the best combination of experience, temperament and judgment,” the board concluded.
The Times endorsement is in line with the latest polling, which identified Welch as the race’s front-runner, followed by Blackmon. In the Primary, Welch leads with just over 23% support, and Blackmon trails slightly at just under 22%. Rice follows in third.
“I’m honored to receive the endorsement of the Tampa Bay Times,” said Ken Welch. “My roots in the community laid the foundation for our race for Mayor. This campaign is powered by the voters and those who believe that, together, we can build upon the progress of those who came before us.