Welch, Kriseman leave St. Petersburg mayor's race wide open
ST. PETERSBURG -- Now that Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and state Rep. Rick Kriseman have announced they will not run for mayor, the race is wide open for the remaining top five contenders.
Still expected to run are businessman Scott Wagman, Amscott executive Deveron Gibbons, City Council member Jamie Bennett and former council members Bill Foster and Kathleen Ford. Community activist Sharon Russ and homeless advocate Paul Congemi are also in the race.
The candidates are already wrangling to get endorsements from Kriseman and Welch, and many expect the field to widen before the September primary.
But there are few community leaders left whose candidacy could shake up the race. Most City Council members say they won't run. Same for county commissioners and local state legislators.
"It’s going to be a very interesting election," said Kriseman. "You have three City Council members that are running on their records that you can look at, you have a businessman whose family has been involved in the community but he is kind of unknown, you have another candidate who is a businessman but who has also been a lobbyist but he also has ties with the south side of the community ... so it’s going to be interesting to see the positions these folks take on the issues."
Welch, widely viewed as the heavy favorite if he entered the race, changed his Facebook status at 11:05 p.m. Monday to say: "Ken is remaining on the County Commission, and looking forward to the challenges ahead ...''
A half-hour earlier he sent an e-mail to supporters and interested observers:
During the last few weeks, I have evaluated the opportunity to run for Mayor of St. Petersburg this year. I am thankful and humbled by your support, encouragement and counsel, and I am confident that with your support we could wage a compelling campaign to lead St. Petersburg. However, the true measure of leadership is not competition for competition's sake, but choosing the path that is in the best interest of the community.
During this process of reflection and evaluation, a friend reminded me of President Obama's principle of the "fierce urgency of now" and the need for innovative leadership from the next St. Petersburg Mayor. While I agree with that perspective, I also strongly believe that the same urgency applies to the County Commission, JWB, and other countywide boards that I am honored to serve on currently. The coming months will bring unprecedented change to the structure, scope, and mission of County government, and those changes will affect all of the citizens of Pinellas County, including my St. Petersburg neighbors. In particular, I am concerned about the potential impact to affordable housing, health and human services, public safety and children's services.
While the Mayor's office is very appealing, I feel compelled to remain engaged in at the County level, to maintain these vital services for our community and to fully participate in the reshaping of Pinellas County government. Therefore after careful consideration I have concluded that at this time, I can best serve our community by continuing to focus all of my energies on my County Commission duties. I will not be a candidate for Mayor of St. Petersburg this year. I wish all of the Mayoral candidates well, and look forward to working with Mayor Baker, and his successor, to conquer the significant challenges before us. Thanks as always for your collaboration, friendship and support. God bless.
Cristina Silva, Times Staff Writer