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St. Pete mayoral race: Top operatives line up for Darden Rice, Ken Welch

The two Democratic campaigns are staffing up.
Two prominent Democrats, city council member Darden Rice and former county Commissioner Ken Welch, are competing in St. Petersburg's mayor's race.
Two prominent Democrats, city council member Darden Rice and former county Commissioner Ken Welch, are competing in St. Petersburg's mayor's race. [ Times (left) Pinellas County (right) ]
Published Jan. 21
Updated Jan. 22

Veteran Florida political operatives from the Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Jane Castor and Rick Kriseman campaigns are lining up to run the campaigns of St. Petersburg mayoral candidates Darden Rice and Ken Welch.

Among them: Mercury Public Affairs, which worked on the Tampa mayoral campaign of Jane Castor and works for candidates of both parties, will work for Welch. The firm includes Ashley Walker, Obama’s 2012 state director, and Adam Smith, former Tampa Bay Times political editor, who will be Welch senior advisers.

Welch’s media adviser will be John Rowley with Tennessee-based Counterpoint Messaging, who specializes in mayoral campaigns and filled the same role for Kriseman in 2016.

For Rice, Meagan Salisbury of St. Petersburg-based Blue Ticket Consulting will be campaign manager. The firm, which includes Salisbury’s husband Tom Alte, has worked on numerous local legislative and city races including Kriseman’s.

Rice’s senior adviser will be Jackie Lee, who held senior positions in the 2008 and 2012 Obama Florida campaigns and Biden’s 2020 Florida campaign.

Other Rice team members: veteran Florida Democratic pollster Tom Eldon; mail consultant Dylan Sumner of Deliver Strategies, a veteran of both Obama Florida campaigns; and media consultant Terrie Pickerill of Chicago-based Snyder Pickerill Media Group.

Former state Rep. Wengay Newton, also filed in the race, said he’ll be making announcements about his campaign team in a couple of weeks.

Newton ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner last year and is now recovering from a Dec. 21 knee replacement surgery, which he said is delaying the start of his campaign.

Welch announces endorsers

Mayoral candidate Ken Welch has announced a list of prominent political figures endorsing him, including five county commissioners, two city council members, a congressman and a former congressman.

Two of the biggest names on the list, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, had already been reported as backing Welch.

Others on the list include Commissioners Pat Gerard, Charlie Justice, Rene Flowers, Janet Long and Karen Seel; council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders; former council members Charlie Gerdes and Connie Kone; former Public Defender Bob Dillinger; former county commissioner and city council member Bob Stewart; and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa.