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Ken Welch takes the reins as St. Petersburg’s mayor | Editorial
The new mayor is sworn in today.
Incoming Mayor Ken Welch poses on the steps of the Municipal Building last month.
Incoming Mayor Ken Welch poses on the steps of the Municipal Building last month. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 6, 2022|Updated Jan. 6, 2022

Ken Welch becomes the mayor of St. Petersburg today. He takes the reins of Florida’s fifth largest city, a city that sometimes despite itself is on an impressive roll. As with all new mayors, he must quickly develop a feel for when to pull on those reins and when to let them loose. It’s now his turn to set the tone.

Welch tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, which ruled out a traditional inauguration ceremony today. Instead, he will be sworn in from home. But he’s handled the misfortune well, setting the right example by quarantining and saying the right things about how today is just the first day in a journey to make St. Petersburg a better place.

Welch is the city’s first Black mayor. That’s an historic — if belated — milestone for St. Petersburg. After winning the November runoff election, Welch said that making history, “in and of itself, has never been the priority of this campaign nor will it be the focus of my administration.” Welch wants to drive “inclusive progress,” a nod to how not every neighborhood — including many Black neighborhoods — has benefited from St. Petersburg’s recent prosperity. He speaks passionately about growing up in the Gas Plant area and what it meant to have a close-knit community looking out for him and others — and what was lost when that neighborhood was razed and eventually became home to the Tropicana Field stadium. “History is important because we must fully understand where we are coming from as a community, to determine where we want to go, and to perfect our path forward,” he has said.

Welch takes over from Mayor Rick Kriseman, who did a lot during his eight years in office including overseeing the building of the new Pier and making the city more inclusive and welcoming to a diverse array of people. But Kriseman also picked unneeded fights with the governor, and Kriseman’s sometimes bellicose communication style alienated one-time allies like the Tampa Bay Rays and some members of the City Council. There is a difference between acting tough and being tough. Good leaders understand the difference and wield power to benefit their constituents, not themselves. And, when crises strike — and they will strike, whether it be a broken sewer system or a questionable police shooting — good leaders are open and honest about what’s going on. They don’t hide the facts, and they don’t make flimsy excuses.

Welch spent most of his political career on the Pinellas County Commission, where he was one of seven commissioners. To get anything done, he had to build coalitions, or at least convince three other commissioners that he had a good idea. Those skills should serve him well as mayor, where he will have to work with the City Council on numerous issues, not the least of which is how to redevelop the Trop site.

As mayor, he must be well informed, but there’s a line between understanding what you want to accomplish and micromanaging. A mayor crosses that line at his own peril. Getting stuck in the weeds takes attention away from the bigger picture. The best mayors also have thick skins; they don’t fight every side skirmish, and they don’t take every perceived slight personally. Like ducks, the water drips off of them while they make determined progress toward their desired destination.

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Welch’s history working for the county should keep him from unnecessarily isolating St. Petersburg from the region, as some previous mayors tended to do. The mayor of St. Pete should put St. Pete first, but rampant parochialism won’t help the city thrive. Transportation issues don’t stop at the city border, nor do the challenges of tackling sea-level rise, crime, affordable housing or economic development. Competition among rival cities drives innovation and progress. But geographic myopia on these big issues does the region no good.

We wish Mayor Welch a healthy and quick recovery from COVID. Like any new administration, he and his team have a lot of work ahead.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.