PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla — Robert Blackmon and Ken Welch have taken the majority of the votes in Tuesday's St. Petersburg Primary Election for mayor. The two will face off in November to see who will be sworn in as the mayor of St. Petersburg.
Unofficial results as of Tuesday evening show Robert Blackmon won 28.25% of the vote while Ken Welch took 39.41% of the vote, with 100% of precincts reporting. Since no candidate took the required 50% of total votes to automatically win, voters will decide who will take over for outgoing Mayor Rick Kriseman, who is leaving office due to term limits.
Ken Welch told ABC Action News his top priority is making sure that as St. Pete grows and flourishes, the people who live and work in the city aren’t priced out of the place they call home.
Welch has served the past 20 years on the Pinellas County Commission. He says safe neighborhoods, affordable housing and equitable growth are his top priorities. Leading up to election night, Welch drove over 1,000 rides for Uber and Lyft to get to know St. Petersburg residents.
If elected in November, Welch will be the first black mayor in St. Petersburg’s history.
“The reality is we are still breaking barriers in 2021. I’m looking forward to the day we are not breaking barriers anymore. But it has significance. I’m a child of the Gas Plant District. My grandfather’s woodyard was where Tropicana Field is today, so it is significant that I have the opportunity now to lead this city,” he elaborated.
Welch wants to use his platform to help others advance.
“Equitable progress is essential, and I will work every day to make the decades-old promises of progress for all to finally become reality for all,” he added.
Current Mayor Rick Kriseman is endorsing Welch for his seat but says he hopes whoever wins will propel the city forward.
“I think every elected official who serves in this capacity hopes whoever comes after them will build on the things that worked and fix the things that didn’t work. Look we’ve made great strides here in St. Pete but there’s a lot to do still,” he said.
At a campaign event with supporters Tuesday evening after results came in, Blackmon said he felt great, but he also felt motivated. At 30 years old, Blackmon became the youngest city council member in St. Petersburg's history in 2019. Blackmon said he thinks he brings a different perspective to the job, noting his success in the private sector.
Blackmon said there are a lot of big issues, with the Tropicana Field redevelopment being one of them, promising within six months in office, they'll have a deal with the Rays one way or the other. Blackmon also said he has ideas for the job.
"Keeping our municipal marina public, where the mayor is trying to privatize it, Mayor Kriseman. But also economic growth for Midtown St. Pete. Moving our municipal services to Tangerine Plaza, which could save us $50 million for the taxpayers and bring about true economic growth for the first time in South St. Pete," said Blackmon. "So ideas, I believe, is what I bring to the table and a passion that can’t be rivaled. I’m not here looking for a job. I’m here to create jobs and looking out for our city."
The next closest candidate was Darden Rice with 16.59% of the vote.
The General Election is set for November 2, 2021. The new mayor will be sworn in on January 6 and serve a 4-year term.
The next mayor will also have a lot to tackle: Keeping the rays in St. Pete, helping businesses and residents recover from the pandemic, creating more affordable housing, overseeing the redevelopment of Tropicana Field and preventing red tide and sewage spills.
Just 29% of eligible voters cast a ballot in this election. Both Welch and Blackmon’s campaigns say they will work hard to increase turnout in November.