ST. PETERSBURG — David Welch, whose political record and persuasive style made him a power broker in this city's black community, died Monday at Bayfront Medical Center of multiple illnesses. He was 85.
Mr. Welch's election to the St. Petersburg City Council in 1981 made him the second African-American council member in the city's history. Over the past five decades, other political hopefuls have stopped by his office at Welch Tax Services and Accounting on 16th Street S for advice or blessings.
The longtime teacher also served as an administrator at what is now Pinellas Technical Education Centers and taught Sunday school for decades at Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ, where his brother, the late Rev. Clarence Welch, was pastor.
Over three terms on the City Council, Mr. Welch was known for arguing unpopular positions forcefully. He backed redevelopment of the gas plant area where he had grown up, resulting in Tropicana Field. He spearheaded interest-free loans by the city to renovate crumbling housing, and served as co-chair of the Community Alliance, which took on substandard housing and lax code enforcement.
A member of one of the city's most prominent African-American families, he stressed education the way his parents had drilled it into him and his siblings, who also became career teachers.
"He always said you need to move beyond your comfort zone, talk to folks you never talked to and try to build new relationships," said Ken Welch, chairman of the Pinellas County Commission and Mr. Welch's son.
Mr. Welch backed candidates who could help his district, which in the 1980s covered much of south St. Petersburg east of 34th Street.
"I refer to him as a political godfather," said Watson Haynes, the president and chief executive officer of the Pinellas County Urban League. "If you wanted the vote in this community, you needed to go see David."
David Tyrone Welch was born in 1927 in St. Petersburg. His parents, Flagmon and Gussie Welch, ran a wood yard and a house cleaning service. They required their children to help with chores, budget money and read each night before bed.
Mr. Welch graduated from Gibbs High, then earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Florida A&M University; he later earned a doctorate in education from Nova University.
He fought in an Army Airborne Division during the Korean War, one of many toughening experiences. While serving as director of fiscal affairs at what was then St. Petersburg Vocational Technical Institute, Mr. Welch played a leading role in resolving a bitter sanitation workers strike in 1968. The Community Alliance grew out of that effort.
Like C. Bette Wimbish, who became St. Petersburg's first black City Council member in 1969, Mr. Welch won a wide swath of white voters in his 1981 win, defeating incumbent Charles Fisher by more than 3,000 votes. He would back every major redevelopment campaign, from the failed Pier Park idea in 1984 to the domed stadium.
On the council, "he was always a voice of reason," said former City Council member Bob Stewart. "When the debate would get emotional, he would straighten out the council pretty quickly with at least his opinion, and many times carried the day."
Mr. Welch married Alletha McKenzie, a former student, 49 years ago. They involved their four children in decisionmaking; a "family council" voted on vacation destinations, and whether to buy a new car or remodel the living room. Mr. Welch carried that same cooperative spirit through decades of involvement with the United Way and Urban League. Many, if not most, of the businesses in his district started with the help of his tax office, which also served as campaign headquarters for many a fledgling politician, including Rep. Darryl Rouson in 2008.
He continued working and staying active even as his health weakened.
"Dr. Welch was a great community warrior," Rouson said. "He was a legend. Once again in our community, a torch is being passed."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.