Equality Florida Action PAC, the state’s largest LGBTQ political action committee, is endorsing former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch for St. Petersburg Mayor.
“Ken Welch has been a progressive champion on the issues that matter most to the people of St. Petersburg,” Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith said in a statement. “Electing a strong, seasoned and tested leader like Ken Welch to one of Florida’s most pro-equality cities is crucial to the LGBTQ community.”
The organization previously endorsed Darden Rice, herself a member of the LGBTQ community, in the mayoral Primary Election. However, the St. Pete City Council member won’t appear on the Nov. 2 ballot after being losing in the Primary to Welch and City Council member Robert Blackmon. Now, the committee is standing behind Welch.
To note, Rice already endorsed Welch in the weeks following the Primary Election, despite some aggressive campaign mailers previously attacking the former Pinellas County Commissioner. Although the race is nonpartisan, the pair are both registered Democrats, while Blackmon is a Republican.
Welch has nabbed a long list of LGBTQ supporters, including most recently Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who is the first openly-gay leader of her city, Rep. Michele Rayner, who announced her support of Welch in the Primary, and St. Pete City Council member Amy Foster, who was one of Welch’s first endorsers. He has also been endorsed by organizations like the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County and the Florida LGBTQ Democratic Caucus.
“Incredible. Thank you Equality Florida for your support and friendship,” Welch said in a statement. “Our community is built on our diversity and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters play such an important role in molding our culture, cultivating businesses, and paving a path of inclusive progress for our community.”
“As Mayor, I will work with everyone to ensure our internal and external policies and procedures build upon the great work of the (Rick) Kriseman administration in making equity and inclusion a core principle of St. Petersburg’s governance,” Welch continued.
The LGBTQ community is an important bloc for candidates, with St. Pete being one of the state’s most inclusive 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 endorsements from members of the LGBTQ community may provide Welch a boost among LGBTQ voters, a bloc that Rice also appealed to during her campaign with the potential of becoming the first openly LGBTQ leader to run the city.
Welch has a strong history with LGBTQ issues, including his 2008 motion to add sexual orientation to the list of protections for employment and housing under the county’s Human Rights Ordinance. Welch also voted in 2013 to create a domestic partner registry in Pinellas County, before same-sex marriage was legal, and helped to pass a county human rights ordinance protecting transgender residents.
Welch faces Blackmon in the Nov. 2 General Election after finishing first in a crowded field in the Aug. 24 Primary Election. He’s running to replace Kriseman, who is leaving office due to term limits and has endorsed Welch as his successor. Former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has also offered his support.