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David Welch, former St. Pete councilman, dies at age 85

ST. PETERSBURG — Former city Councilman David T. Welch, who helped guide his community through racial tensions and massive development projects, died Monday. He was 85.

Welch served three four-year terms on the City Council — two in the 1980s and another in the 1990s.

He died surrounded by family at hospice at Bayfront Medical Center, said his son, Ken Welch, who serves as the chairman of the Pinellas County Commission.

In 1981, Welch became only the second black man to be elected to the St. Petersburg City Council.

An accountant and educator, Welch was the longtime finance director at St. Petersburg Vocational-Technical Institute and a teacher at Gibbs Junior College.

Ken Welch said his father was a teacher at heart who saw education as a way to improve lives. A child of a wood yard owner, he and his siblings were the first in their family to go to college. Welch graduated from Florida A&M University.

“He really had a heart for the community and for helping young folk, specifically, and making sure every part of the community was represented,” Ken Welch said.

The walls of a room in David Welch’s house are covered with plaques and certificates honoring his service on various community boards, but Ken Welch said his father was most proud of the impact he had on young people teaching at Gibbs Junior College.

His affable personality and diplomatic skills helped him get things done in the city both as a member of City Council and a community leader, friends and colleagues said.

In 1968, Welch helped negotiate the end of a 116-day strike by city sanitation workers for better pay and working conditions. During the strike, he took on the role of co-chair of the Community Alliance, a biracial group the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce established to help calm racial tensions in the city.

Welch’s tenure on the council in the 1980s was a time of major development downtown, including renovation of The Pier and the Bayfront Center, the building of the Florida Suncoast Dome — now Tropicana Field — and the Bay Plaza development.

He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1991 but returned to council in 1993 to represent District 6 after soundly beating current City Council Chairman Karl Nurse.

Welch’s affable manner gained him support from other community leaders, making him an effective council member, Nurse said.

“David was clear where he was trying to push things, but he had a style that did not breed a lot of push-back,” Nurse said. “It was the early days, so he was in the minority in everything he did, but he got stuff done.”

During his time in office, Welch sought to bring more jobs and affordable housing to residents in South St. Petersburg, where he lived.

He was also seen as a guide to a younger generation of city leaders.

Rev. Manuel Sykes, head of the St. Petersburg NAACP, said when he was younger Welch often took him to one side to counsel him. Many young people benefitted from Welch’s advice, he said.

“He’s strong but no abrasive — a strong hand in a mink glove,” Sykes said. “His personality and diplomacy is what stands out. “

A wake for Welch is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at Prayer Tower of God in Christ, 1137 37th St. S. His funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the church.

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