ST. PETERSBURG — Today is a historic day for the Sunshine City.
Ken Welch will be inaugurated as St. Petersburg’s 54th mayor today. Three new City Council members also will be sworn in.
City Hall has never been more diverse — Welch is the once-segregated city’s first Black mayor, and the City Council has four members of color, including its first Hispanic member and Black member elected north of Central Avenue.
A surge of COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant has derailed some of the pageantry. Public celebrations have been postponed, and Welch, who tested positive for the virus for a second time despite being vaccinated and boosted, is being sworn in from home.
We will have a livestream of events later today at the video player above.
The day started with a farewell at 8:30 a.m. for outgoing City Council members Robert Blackmon, Amy Foster and Darden Rice. Blackmon ran against Welch for mayor and lost, and Foster and Rice were both limited to two terms. You can watch the proceedings on St. Pete TV here.
New and reelected City Council members will be sworn in on the steps of City Hall at 10:30 a.m. Copley Gerdes replaces Blackmon, Richie Floyd replaces Foster and Lisset Hanewicz replaces Rice. Gina Driscoll won reelection, and Brandi Gabbard was automatically reelected when her sole opponent dropped out.
The council will also vote today at 11:15 p.m. to confirm the selection of Driscoll and Gabbard as chairperson and vice chairperson.
The 40-minute broadcast of Welch’s inauguration will begin at noon, including a live, virtual address from Welch. Much of the program is pre-recorded, including his swearing in by Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge Michael J. Andrews. The invocation will be delivered by Pastor Clarence Williams of Mt. Zion African Methodist Church.
There will be a prerecorded Pledge of Allegiance on the steps of City Hall by 11-year-old Francesca Ramaeka of Lakeview Fundamental Elementary School, 10-year-old Caleb Nissen and 8-year-old Liana Nissen both from Shorecrest Preparatory and 14-year-old Santana Holt Bay Point Middle School. The National Anthem will be performed by local saxophonist Jordan Bolds.
The program will also include the reading of Ode to St. Pete by poet Giovanni Cerro. The mayor-elect’s sister, Katrina Welch, will sing Order my Steps accompanied by Jamal Dorsey. Local writer and director Erica Sutherlin will perform the poem We are St. Petersburg written by St. Petersburg’s Terri Lipsey Scott.
The benediction will be given by Imam Abdul Karim Ali, president of the Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association; Rabbi Phillip Weintraub, Congregation B’nai Israel of St. Petersburg; and Pastor Renae Phillips, King of Peace Metropolitan Community Church.
Classrooms in at least 22 Pinellas County schools will watch today’s ceremony and mayoral speech. Live coverage can be followed through the hashtag #WeAreStPete on social media.