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'Working together, we will move our city forward': Ken Welch sworn in as St. Petersburg mayor

Because of Welch's coronavirus diagnosis, his swearing-in ceremony as the city's first Black mayor was held virtually.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The pomp surrounding Ken Welch's inauguration Thursday was more muted given the circumstance of COVID-19.

This week, Welch announced he tested positive for the virus despite being vaccinated and boosted — and having contracted the virus last fall.

St. Petersburg's new mayor was sworn in anyway on Thursday, albeit in a virtual manner. His inauguration was historic, as he becomes the city's first Black mayor and the 54th mayor overall.

An in-person swearing-in ceremony on the steps of City Hall was canceled because of Welch's diagnosis. Digital or not, "it's time to get to work," he said earlier.

"This election is historic, but our goal is not to simply make history, rather we must work together to make a difference, to make an impact for this generation and for generations to come," Welch said during his noon address. "Our collective vision will define what progress looks like for our entire city.

"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..."

The city broadcast Welch's inauguration program on TV and online, featuring a saxophone performance of the national anthem by Jordan Bolds, readings and the new mayor's remarks. 

"The power of our partnership is in our collective capacity for progress, and working together, we will move our city forward every day," said Welch, speaking on the significance of diversity. It's through a combined effort, he says, that the city can address issues of business prosperity through the pandemic, climate change and safe neighborhoods.

Welch is a third-generation St. Petersburg resident who grew up in the Gas Plant neighborhood, an area he highlighted in his speech

"We are the sons and daughters of the deuces and the Gas Plant, still waiting, still waiting for the promise of equitable economic development made more than three decades ago," he said.

Prior to running for mayor, Welch became the first commissioner elected to represent Pinellas County Commission District 7 and served his post for 20 years. In his run for mayor, Welch was considered to be the frontrunner who had garnered the support of outgoing Mayor Rick Kriseman. 

Welch beat St. Petersburg council member Robert Blackmon in a percentage split 60-40. In his acceptance speech, he acknowledged the past before leading the city into the future. It was his father, David Welch, who was St. Petersburg's first Black man to serve on the city council in the 1980s.

He, too, ran for mayor in 1991.

"Because of each and every one of you here today we have made history. But this election is not about me, it’s because of the giants that came before me — it’s because of the inclusive progress we are working towards, and that’s why we're all here today," Welch said during his acceptance speech.

In his run for mayor, Welch focused on six principles, including an inclusive leadership strategy, keeping the mayor's office in touch with the city, making informed decisions, being innovative, incorporating intentional equity and impacting the community.  

He says he plans to stick to those promises, keeping inclusive progress at the focus of his administration, even though the work ahead is bound to be challenging. 

Welch said he's also invested in justice reform, diversion equity and alternatives to incarceration.

Welch attended the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and received his master's degree from Florida A&M University. He and his wife, Donna, have two daughters.

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