The future of Pinellas County – especially concerning transportation issues — is what has County Commissioner Ken Welch jumping up five spots to crack the Top 10 in SaintPetersBlog list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians for 2014.
Coming in at #10, the St. Petersburg native, Lakewood High and University of South Florida graduate has a seat at the table for virtually every issue having to do with Pinellas County. The number of countywide committee appointments alone makes him a powerful force in the region.
Not only is Welch chair of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), but he also is co-chair of the Pinellas County Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and sits on the Pinellas County Business Technology Services Board, Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Advisory Committee for Pinellas Transportation, Pinellas Health & Human Services Coordinating Council, among many others.
Welch’s position at the PSTA puts him front and center in the debate over expanded transit services at the heart of Greenlight Pinellas — the referendum that asks voters to approve a one-cent sales tax for a list of bus service improvements and building light rail from downtown St. Pete to Clearwater.
No one is under the impression that Greenlight Pinellas will be an easy sell in November, but if there were anyone who can make commuter rail a reality, it would be Ken Welch.
As an African-American and a progressive, many observers hoped Welch would run for St. Pete Mayor in 2013, the best opportunity for someone of his reputation to assume the responsibility. But responsibilities countywide kept him on the County Commission, and another liberal, Mayor Rick Kriseman, is now in office as the first Democrat elected mayor of St. Petersburg in more than two decades.
With Welch staying where he is, Pinellas County is all the better for it.
For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who comprised the panel that assembled it, please read here.