There’s more to the Junior League flub on canceled mayoral ball

Ken Welch tried to work with them, but they got greedy.

Much has been said of the St. Petersburg Junior League’s decision to theme this year’s mayoral ball with circus imagery, and the subsequent move to cancel the event. But if there is one takeaway it is this: The Junior League messed up, royally, and it has nothing to do with the event’s honoree, St. Pete Mayor-elect Ken Welch.

For those who don’t know, the Junior League sent out promotional material advertising the ball, featuring St. Petersburg with a circus theme as “the Greatest City on Earth” and showing a black pelican wearing a top hat.

Apparently no one involved in the planning process thought to consider how that imagery might make the city’s Black residents, or anyone familiar with the city’s less savory history during segregation Jim Crow-era, feel. During segregation, Black residents weren’t allowed to attend the circus. Welch will be the city’s first Black Mayor when he is inaugurated Jan. 6.

And if that’s not bad enough, theming the ball on a circus just sounds bad. Are you saying Welch’s election, and his administration, are some sort of clown show?

It wasn’t even the only snub. Held after every mayoral election since 2006, the event has typically been hosted at the swank Coliseum or Mahaffey Theater. But this year, the Junior League decided to move it to the Factory in the South St. Pete Midtown area. Talk about ouch.

Not surprisingly, Welch declined to attend the ball. He had already expressed displeasure with the theme. He was right to answer the JL’s snub with one of his own.

But let’s just make some things about this situation crystal clear, and fully understand that no one is to blame here except the Junior League.

Leaders within the organization have tried to downplay the issue, saying it offered to change the theme and, is that gaslighting I hear, actually putting the blame on Welch for not responding to a request for a meeting.

Welch and his team first raised the issue in late August, before he was even elected. But the Junior League didn’t decide to make changes until November, after a reporter called and asked about it, according to sources within Welch’s transition team with knowledge of the issue.

And while Welch did not attend several meetings with the Junior League to discuss changes, and the expense that came along with it, members of his team did.

Pinellas County Commissioner Rene Flowers raised the issue, through her official county email, on Nov. 16 and never received a response.

“‘Under The Big Top’ has been taken by some as a circus act, a Black man referenced with show animals and clowns — not the reverence that is so deserving,” she wrote. “The depiction of a black pelican in a top hat is distasteful, hurtful, and certainly not honorable or admirable.”

The real kicker: The Junior League didn’t cancel the event because Welch declined to attend. It canceled it because Welch wouldn’t raise $100,000 for its fundraiser.

While the Mayor’s Ball is advertised as a celebration of city and leader, it is, in fact, a major Junior League fundraiser. The League wanted Welch to hand over a list of supporters and help attract donations.

Welch politely declined.

Yet to hear the Junior League describe the entire series of events, one might believe this was only about an ill-advised theme that insults the city’s Black community. Sure, that’s awful, and whoever pitched that idea, along with anyone who failed to see why it was a terrible idea, needs a stern talking to. But at the end of the day, this is an organization which first failed to respond to criticism and then got upset when Welch wisely declined to do its fundraising heavy-lifting.

To pitch this as anything other than a major Junior League blunder is simply disingenuous.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


  • Ron Ogden

    December 6, 2021 at 9:53 am

    The last time this happened, when the Senior Prom committee fought about whether the theme would be “Sunlit Seas” or “Fly Me to the Moon,” all the rented tuxes and ball gowns had to be returned.

  • Patrick Harris

    December 6, 2021 at 11:03 am

    That’s the problem: white-only circuses and Jim Pelican? Give me a break! Why not acknowledge the fact that a black man can now attend the circus and be elected mayor?

    SJWs have to go!

  • NativeSon44

    December 7, 2021 at 11:46 am

    As a ”war baby” born and raised in SRQ and knowing all too well the era there similar to the saintly part of the TPA bay in the ’40s and since,,, I applaud Welch’s common sense response to this JL fiasco.
    Think you are being too lenient, by far, on that group Peter…
    Thanks for your work trying to keep us up to date on the various and sundry machinations of JL and all the other NGOs ”behind the scenes.”
    Actually have great HOPIUM that the internet will actually, finally, produce the ”Information Age” long promised but so far short on actuality…

  • Christopher Calloway

    December 7, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    I support Mayor elect Welch 100% in his wise decision to disassociate himself from this event and organization. Shame on them.

  • Donald McClelland

    December 10, 2021 at 9:26 am

    All of this hoopla over a circus theme? Really and someone made a disrespectful comment being a clown show? Circus and clowning is an art. Does Mr. Welch realize that a major circus, Universoul Circus is Black owned? Show how the area has changed and its positive relationship with circuses. This Mayor Elect is starting off on the wrong foot.

  • Mike

    December 15, 2021 at 10:28 pm

    Is this real life? Get some perspective and come back to reality. This is a charitable group. There’s no agenda here. The agenda lies with the publisher of this highly skewed article.

Comments are closed.


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