Ken Welch District 7, Democrats
Ken Welch is the only African-American and the only Democrat on the Pinellas County Commission, but that has not left him isolated on a board that has tilted to the far right. The St. Petersburg resident is a respected voice of reason who favors pragmatic solutions over ideological posturing, and his contributions to the county and his south Pinellas district are significant.
Welch, 47, has served on the commission since 2000 and works particularly well with the more moderate Republicans on the board, including Susan Latvala and Karen Seel. Those three commissioners were on the losing side of an indefensible 4-3 vote last year that removed fluoride from the county's drinking water. Welch continues to stand on the side of science and health care rather than myth and extremism.
In both countywide and district issues, Welch is an influential voice. He has played a significant role in developing programs such as Safe Harbor that help get the homeless off the street and into shelter and services. He serves on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and will play a key role in further developing a transit plan that voters will be asked to approve. He is well versed in the controversy over the future of emergency medical services and willing to compromise. And he understands the county has a role to play in jump-starting discussions about a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Welch is visible in his district, and his work on areas ranging from services provided by the Juvenile Welfare Board to homeless issues benefit the many low-income and middle-class neighborhoods in District 7.
Maria Scruggs, 54, lives in St. Petersburg and commutes to work for the Orange County Corrections Department. She is a plaintiff in a lawsuit aimed at forcing Welch and two other commissioners out of office over a dispute about term limits. Scruggs would not vote to put fluoride back into the drinking water, put a transit plan on the ballot or consider continuing to use resort tax money for a new stadium for the Rays. Those are not forward-looking positions, and she cannot match Welch's experience.
In the Democratic primary for Pinellas County Commission District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Ken Welch.