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Ken Welch sworn in as the first African American mayor in St. Pete

St. Pete Council is more diverse than ever
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Posted at 4:45 PM, Jan 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-06 17:27:24-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s a day 134 years in the making. On Thursday, Jan. 6, Ken Welch officially became the first African American mayor in St. Petersburg’s history.

Ken Welch was sworn in from home in his yard after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week.

“This election is historic, but our goal is not to simply make history, rather we must work together to make a difference,” Welch said in a speech after he was sworn into the role.

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Welch attended kindergarten and first grade at Melrose Elementary School. At the time, it was a segregated school.

“As a child of the civil rights area, 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.”

Thursday, students at Melrose watched Welch’s speech and held their own mock elections.

“One of the things I do when I visit schools is I ask kids what their plans are for the future. In November when I visited Melrose Elementary for the Great American Teach In, I had several kids tell me they want to be Mayor or Governor or President and I loved hearing that,” Welch told ABC Action News over a zoom call Thursday afternoon.

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At the Woodson African American History Museum, a small crowd also gathered to watch Welch swear in.

“Here at the Woodson Museum, our mission is to preserve, present and interpret and celebrate African American history and how extraordinary it is for us today to do just that in such an extraordinary way,” said Museum Executive Director Terri Lipsey Scott.

Making history didn’t stop at the Mayor’s office. With the addition of three new city council members, city leadership is now more diverse than ever. Lissett Hanewicz was sworn in as the first Hispanic council member.

“I lost my mother this year on September 20 while I was campaigning so she didn’t have a chance to see me become an elected official. My mother came from Cuba, a place where you could not vote and you don’t have freedom and here I am an elected official, the first Hispanic ever to be an elected official here in St Pete,” she said with tears in her eyes.

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Richie Floyd and Copley Gerdes were also sworn in as new city council members, alongside re-elected and returning council members Brandi Gabbard and Gina Driscoll.

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Copley Gerdes

“It’s great to be able to say we’re a city who values our diversity, a city that’s better because of it and our leadership reflects that,” Floyd added.

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Richie Floyd

Welch hopes the council’s collective backgrounds will help drive St. Pete to become a more welcoming and inclusive city for everyone.

“It is important that we look at our diversity not as something that divides us, but rather, it can be our greatest strength,” Welch added closing out his speech.

Welch plans to focus on affordable housing and progress for all by ensuring St. Petersburg residents aren’t left behind as the city grows.