ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Petersburg’s election for mayor is almost here, so we met with both candidates to ask them the same 10 questions about their plans if elected.
Ken Welch is a third-generation St. Pete resident, having grown up in the Gas Plant area. He says he spent his summers and time after school working at his grandfather’s woodyard, an area that was later displaced by the interstate. Prior to running for mayor, he became the first Commissioner elected to represent County Commission District 7 and served on the County Commission for 20 years. Now in the race for mayor, he’s focusing on unifying the community and working toward a common goal of authentic progress for everyone.
Robert Blackmon is also a St. Pete native, graduating from St. Pete High School and earning a degree from Florida State University. He was elected to St. Pete’s City Council in 2019, focusing on issues like the environment, public safety and economic recovery after COVID-19. He works in real estate, managing multi-family homes. He has served on the Council of Neighborhood Associations and has been recognized by Preserve the ‘Burg for his work to preserve historic housing buildings.
While the candidates are both proud to call St. Pete their home, they have different approaches to managing the city if elected as mayor.
When it comes to leading the city, Blackmon says his greatest strengths are his ability to lead and the innovative ideas he can bring to the table. In his personal life, he says he has successfully run his own company while providing affordable housing options throughout the city. During his time in City Council, he has focused on smart spending, environmentalism, preservation, and job creation.
What about Blackmon’s weaknesses? He says he often finds himself wanting to be involved in everything at once, adding it’s because he cares. He says he wants to get into office, do his job, and leave the city in a better place when he’s done.
Welch also has strengths he feels will help bring progress to the city. He says his greatest strength is a record of accomplishment and partnership as he has developed relationships with all sectors of the community. Through these relationships, he wants to bring inclusive progress to St. Pete, giving everyone a voice.
As a weakness, Welch describes himself as “a bit of a perfectionist.” He knows no one can be perfect at anything, but he always aspires to perfection in his work.
One of the biggest concerns in St. Pete is housing costs and the amount of affordable housing available. Currently, a one-bedroom apartment in St. Pete costs an average of $2,000 a month.
Having worked in real estate, Blackmon says he knows how the city could provide more affordable housing. He has a plan for city-backed mortgages, which would involve purchasing existing condominium units in the city instead of subsidizing developers to build new, expensive buildings.
Welch has a different approach to the issue. He plans to use an existing housing trust fund to continue funding affordable housing. He says the fund currently has more than 100 million dollars. He acknowledges the increase of luxury housing in St. Pete and wants to focus on housing for people making about $23.50 an hour or less.
St. Petersburg is well known for its beautiful beaches, parks, and sunny skies. We asked both candidates what the biggest environmental threat to the city is, and what they would do about it if elected.
Welch says the water is St. Pete’s greatest asset and greatest challenge. He highlighted sea levels rising along the west coast of Florida, and city policies must adapt to combat this challenge. He plans to use the science available around sea levels, and apply those to decisions made by the city, from areas like transportation to housing.
Blackmon describes himself as a preservationist, having served on the Tampa Bay Estuary Board of Directors. After one of the worst red tides the area has seen, he says this is a major environmental concern. Blackmon says he would continue initiatives like oyster planting to keep the bay clean and free of red tide.
Turning to sports, the future of the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Pete is up in the air.
Both candidates want the Tampa Bay Rays to stay in the city, but Tropicana Field’s future is different.
For Blackmon, he wants to see new developments on the Tropicana Field site, possibly moving the Rays to Al Lang, turning that stadium into a shared space with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. He wants to see more companies moving to the city to stimulate economic growth, and feels the Tropicana site could be used for new office buildings. If the Rays were to leave St. Pete, Blackmon says his plans wouldn’t change much, focusing on building offices and potentially new hotels.
Welch says the issue of the Tampa Bay Rays is close to his heart. His grandfather’s woodyard was displaced from the interstate, and for the building of Tropicana Field. Due to this, he wants to make sure that displacement wasn’t for nothing, hoping to further economic development.
Through the county’s bed tax, he wants to potentially fund a new stadium for the Rays. The bed tax previously funded the development of Tropicana Field. Even if a new stadium doesn’t come to fruition, he could see the Rays using Al Lang.
We asked both candidates about two separate Tampa Bay Times articles accusing them of making remarks that may have offended some people.
One article accuses Blackmon of making disparaging remarks about women, Asian people and tenants on Facebook about a decade ago.
Blackmon says in his youth he has made jokes and inappropriate comments. He says he cannot find the posts on his Facebook page if they were there. Either way, he says it wasn’t right then, and it’s not right now. He says he fully owns up to and apologizes for anything he said in his youth, and hopes voters understand these posts date back to when he was somewhere between 17 and 22 years old. He adds he has never made any inappropriate comments while serving as an elected official.
A separate article accuses Welch of belonging to a church with values condemning homosexuality. In a 1995 letter to the newspaper, Welch writes about being pro-family and pro-life, and called the National Organization for Women a “far-left political group.”
He says his views have changed significantly in 30 years. He mentions raising his two daughters and developing a different viewpoint now on issues like homosexuality and the rights of women. Welch adds he led an effort to increase protections in a county-wide human rights ordinance to protect individuals from jobs and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2008, along with protections for the transgender community. He says he’s glad he has learned and grown from his previous viewpoints.
In this election, neither candidate will likely receive 100% of the votes. However, both want to and plan to reach across the aisle and represent those that did not vote for them.
Welch says during the transition process, he wants to see every voice at the table, with the best ideas of how to move the city forward. No matter your vote, he wants your input on how to make St. Pete a better place for residents and tourists.
Blackmon shares similar sentiments. He says he loves to take meetings with anybody, no matter who you are or what your background is. He adds when like-minded people surround you all the time, there’s no true innovation or diversity. He hopes to gain perspective and insight from those who did not vote for him and work toward a city for everyone.
You can watch the full interviews with both candidates below:
Ten questions with Ken Welch
10 questions with Robert Blackmon