ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - On Thursday, Ken Welch made history when he officially became the 54th mayor of St. Petersburg with his daughter, Kenya Welch, holding the bible during the oath of office.
Welch's inauguration was not be held as originally planned because he tested positive for COVID-19 a few days ago. Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge Michael J. Andrews presided over the virtual ceremony held outside Welch's home. City Clerk Chan Srinivasa and City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch were also in attendance. Welch’s daughter, Kenya Welch, held the bible for the swearing-in ceremony. Kenya was able to participate in the ceremony because she also tested positive for COVID-19.
Welch has been vaccinated and received the booster. Welch says he doesn’t know where he contracted COVID-19. This is the second time he has had the virus, with relatively minor symptoms.
"It feels to me like a regular cold and that’s because I’m fully vaccinated and received the booster as well, so I think the science works. This is a good example of that," Welch said.
He said he is still working and promised his infection will not interfere with the start of his term. Welch’s historic election made him St. Pete’s first Black mayor. He says the significance of that won’t be lost for the lack of a formal inauguration on the steps of City Hall.
Welch was one of the last St. Petersburg residents to attend school under segregation policies, attending kindergarten and first grade at Melrose Elementary.
"As a child of the civil rights era, I grew up in the areas of our city where my family lived not by choice, but by sanctioned discriminatory practices that defined where African Americans could live in our city," Welch said. "But during the Great American Teach-In in November, I returned to Melrose and spoke to students in the classrooms of two great teachers, Delia Michelle Doss and Natalie El Amrani. I spoke to those wonderful and engaging students as Mayor-elect of our city! That’s a story of progress."
Welch says he plans to build on the successes of his predecessor, Mayor Rick Kriseman.
"Our city has become an incubator for new business and technology start-ups; a pioneer in innovative problem-solving; a leader in creativity and cultural growth; a hub for medical and marine science research and discovery; and a thriving example of the live, work, play and retire lifestyle. You have positioned our city for even greater progress. I want to thank you and First Lady Kerry for your leadership of our city," Welch said.
"Today we embrace the people’s desire for a community where every person is valued, every idea is considered based on its merits, and where a common vision is forged, based upon progress that is inclusive, innovative, informed, intentional and in touch with all," Welch said in his inauguration address.
Welch says he plans to get to work creating an Office of Strategic Initiatives, creating a city council marketing position, making interim and permanent leadership promotions and, among other initiatives, looking into creating a new crosswalk at Chief’s Creole Café to address concerns levied during Community Conversations meetings.
Ken Welch is following in his family's footsteps. The Welch family has a long history in St. Petersburg. Ken’s father, David Welch, was the first African American man to serve on the St. Petersburg City Council. His father also ran for mayor in 1991.
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