OPINION: St. Pete’s next mayor should be Ken Welch

USF students living in St. Petersburg should vote for former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch in the St. Pete mayoral election to ensure them better educational opportunities and improved financial stability. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/Ken Welch

The St. Petersburg mayoral election runoffs are Nov. 2, and it’s clear Ken Welch, a USF St. Pete alum, will be the candidate who best represents USF students’ needs due to his focus on education equality. 

Welch is a former Pinellas County commissioner and has expressed forward thinking ideas for educational inclusivity in the city. 

Welch has assisted the Pinellas Career Education Fund, an organization dedicated to nurturing student success within public education. He has also created the Community Redevelopment Agency, which established community redevelopment areas (CRAs) to develop schools and housing in communities that have little to no resources. 

“I led the county effort to address the impacts of poverty, including negative public safety, education, health and economic outcomes, by creating a CRA with long-term funding to build the economic capacity and self-sufficiency of those locked into generational poverty,” Welch told Bay News 9 in a Feb. 19 interview. 

These CRAs will introduce better educational opportunities for impoverished citizens. Many USF students could benefit from these opportunities, since the university distributed about $504 million in financial aid during the 2018-19 school year, according to USF’s Office of Admissions. This was more than the financial aid distributed by UF and FSU in the same year. 

Welch would also be St. Pete’s first Black mayor, making history for Tampa Bay. This milestone would be important to college students whose largest political concern is racial justice, according to a 2021 youth poll by Harvard University. 

Robert Blackmon, Welch’s opponent, has also invested in education. As a city council member, he supported science education with $3.5 million county, state and federal funding by restoring the St. Pete Science Center, which unfortunately has yet to be used since the center is temporarily closed due to COVID-19. 

The opposing candidate has also worked to end the housing crisis in Tampa Bay by renting property to residents for 120% under the area median income, according to Blackmon’s website. Although impressive, his work to improve education and decrease rent prices is minimal compared to Welch’s efforts in economic justice and successes in education equality.

While in office, Welch promises to create an inclusive leadership team, establish better community and job development, focus environmental efforts on rising sea levels and improve public transportation, according to his campaign website

For USF students voting for St. Pete’s next mayor, Welch seems to be the best choice between the two. His dedication to education improvements, income equality and the historic sentiment of his win would benefit students in all aspects.