ST. PETERSBURG — The Sunshine City’s mayor-elect didn’t expect to see some of his colleagues from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Seminar for Newly Elected Mayors so soon.
On Tuesday, some of those mayors Ken Welch met two weeks ago at Harvard, including Michelle Wu of Boston and Justin Bibb of Cleveland, joined Welch on a visit to the White House, where they met with Cabinet secretaries and senior officials in President Joe Biden’s administration.
The day was capped with time spent with Biden, who gave Welch and the other 10 invited mayors and soon-to-be mayors a tour of the Oval Office and a walk around the campus. Welch said Biden emphasized how the Build Back Better program could meet unprecedented challenges in the nation’s housing needs, its aging infrastructure and an overburdened transportation network.
“Other mayors have had these kind of challenges, but no other mayors have had this kind of financial support for these items,” Welch said. “Mayors are supporting each other. and this administration is getting dollars down to the local level.”
Welch also met with Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge and U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh.
He got to ask Buttigieg if funding in the Build Back Better plan was flexible for a bus rapid transit system. Buttigieg clarified that it was.
“It was really productive and sets us on a good course for when we take office,” Welch said.
He also learned that the Build Back Better plan could help fund the city’s Integrated Water Resources Master Plan. Federal money may also aid in cushioning water rate increases for residents and free up $9 million set aside from Penny for Pinellas to be spent on parks and vehicles.
Welch shared best practices with other mayors, too. He’ll be back in the capital in January for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Welch, who traveled to Washington, D.C., on Monday with his transition director, Stephanie Owens, held his third and last of three “community conversations” to solicit input for his administration from his hotel room. He returns back to warm St. Petersburg on Wednesday.
Along with hearing from federal partners and having their support, “It dovetails with getting the input (from) the citizens about what their priorities are with the community conversations,” he said. “Our job is to marry the two together.”
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect the correct name of the city’s Integrated Water Resources Master Plan.