Ken Welch, Rick Kriseman endorse Charlie Justice as ‘clear choice’ for Pinellas County Commission

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'Commissioner Justice has dedicated his life to improving the quality of life for all residents of this county, but particularly our most vulnerable and those struggling to make ends meet.'

St. Petersburg’s current and former Mayors are both endorsing Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice for re-election to his District 3 seat.

Incumbent Mayor Ken Welch — who served with Justice on the Commission before he was elected Mayor — and former Mayor Rick Kriseman are, like Justice, both Democrats.

They are the first official endorsements from elected leaders announced this election cycle, though there are likely more to come as campaigning ramps up.

“As the Mayor of St. Petersburg and a former County Commission colleague, I wholeheartedly endorse Commissioner Charlie Justice for re-election. His unwavering commitment to our community, proven leadership, and ability to collaborate effectively across all levels of government have been instrumental in advancing inclusive progress for our community,” said Welch, who has a very public social media friendship with Justice, complete with razzing over the merits of iPhones vs. Androids and tempting photos of sweet confections.

“Charlie’s dedication to public service, coupled with his deep understanding of the issues that matter most to our residents, makes him the clear choice for continued service on the Commission.”

Kriseman touted Justice’s ability to “bring people together,” noting that now more than ever “politics has become so divisive.”

“As a resident of Pinellas County for more than 50 years, I have witnessed first-hand the difference thoughtful, decisive leadership can have on our county. As a former Mayor, I also know the value of partnerships — how working collaboratively with the County and the elected officials helped St. Petersburg and Pinellas County thrive and prosper,” Kriseman said.

“That’s why I am pleased and honored to support Charlie Justice.  I have known Commissioner Justice for more than 30 years, and during his entire time in office, whether as a State Representative, State Senator, or County Commissioner, Commissioner Justice has dedicated his life to improving the quality of life for all residents of this county, but particularly our most vulnerable and those struggling to make ends meet.”

Justice called both Welch and Kriseman “transformative” leaders and said they and others “cannot afford to let partisan extremists take us backward.”

“Pinellas County is proud to partner with all twenty-four of our cities. I am incredibly proud that the mayors who have seen my leadership over the last ten years on the Commission are both supporting my re-election,” Justice said.

“It is important that our local governments work together. That was not always the case here but now we are doing it every day and it is paying off for our residents in economic development, public safety, environmental protection and increasing housing availability.”

District 3 includes parts of west St. Pete and Lealman, though it is elected countywide.

When announcing his re-election campaign in October, Justice touted his work on protecting beaches and local estuaries, as well as preserving green space, investing in infrastructure, and making public safety a priority. He said there has been a 59% decline in serious crime countywide.

Justice also boasts work to consistently balance the county’s budget and lowering residents’ millage rate.

Justice so far faces a challenge from Republican Vince Nowicki, a community activist known for ruffling feathers among local elected officials, including Welch.

While Nowicki ran for St. Pete Mayor in 2021, the conservative activist is perhaps best known for his efforts to hold local elected officials accountable. His personal investigation into former St. Pete City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman led to her resignation in September. Nowicki hired a private investigator, who uncovered Wheeler-Bowman was residing outside her district.

He also filed an unsuccessful ethics complaint against Welch over his appointment of James Corbett as City Development Administrator.

The race is likely to be competitive. Republicans now hold a nearly 20,000 voter advantage in Pinellas County, with 245,003 voters to just 226,063 Democrats. That’s a sizable lead, especially considering Republicans historically turn out in greater numbers than Democrats. It also means no-party or third-party voters will play a big role in election outcomes next year. There are nearly 193,000 voters not affiliated with a major party.

Democrats lost ground on the County Commission in the 2022 cycle, with Pat Gerard losing her seat and Republicans claiming a 4-3 advantage. They are now looking to expand that advantage, with Republicans running against Justice and in the open race for countywide District 1, which Democrat Janet Long is vacating.

It’s widely believed that if the GOP picks up either seat it will be next to impossible for Democrats to win back their advantage in less than 10 years. If they manage to keep both seats blue, party operatives are hopeful the pendulum will swing back in Democrats’ favor within the next two or three election cycles.

Justice narrowly held onto his seat the last time he was up for re-election, with barely more than 50% of the vote against GOP challenger Tammy Sue Vasquez. The county has only gotten more conservative since then, setting up a tall task for Justice.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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