Sheriff Jerry Demings Launches Campaign for Orange County Mayor

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Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings (D) officially launched his campaign for Orange County Mayor on Friday. As the Orlando Political Observer reported, Demings filed the paperwork to run for the county’s highest office on Thursday.

Demings’ wife, Congresswoman Val Demings, introduced her husband by noting that it was “bittersweet” for him to consider leaving the Sheriff’s office, a job he has “loved.” Rep. Demings said that he had lived in the area his entire life and was a graduate of Jones High School, which drew cheers from other Jones alumni in the crowd. “I think he realized a long time ago, there is no place like home.” She concluded her remarks by saying that she “could not be more honored” to introduce Demings, the father to their three sons and grandfather to their five grandchildren. “I’m honored to call him husband and call him my best friend,” she said.

Demings began his speech thanking his wife, and said that “after much prayer and deliberation, and with the support of my family, I’m excited to announce my candidacy for Orange County Mayor.” He thanked the community for electing him “overwhelmingly” as Sheriff three times and touted his 36 years of public service in law enforcement.

Demings was the first African-American Chief of the Orlando Police Department and the first African-American Orange County Sheriff, a position to which he was first elected in 2008. If elected, he would also be the county’s first African-American mayor. Demings remarked that he was “proud of what it signifies that our community had progressed to a point where one could be considered a serious candidate” for Orange County Mayor, regardless of race, gender, or ethnic background.

“I am prepared to make the sacrifice to continue making a difference to the lives of all people of the community in which I was born and raised,” said Demings. “I am simply seeking to do so at another level.”

Demings then said that his campaign platform would focus on three main issues: public safety, smart growth, and community bonding. Perhaps in recognition of the nonpartisan status of the race, the specifics Demings offered on these topics had a notable bipartisan tone.

Regarding public safety, Demings naturally pointed to his law enforcement career, including having served during prolonged hostage events, the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the 2004-2005 hurricanes, the prosecution of Casey Anthony in 2009, and the Pulse nightclub shooting last year.

“You can expect me to lead from the front,” said Demings, saying that he would be supportive of the public safety unions, paying public safety workers a competitive wage, and making sure they have the training and resources needed.

Smart growth, continued Demings, means growth “in a manner that protects our way of life but offers new opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship for everyone.”

“You can count on me,” said Demings, to work with existing local businesses, chambers of commerce, and community partners to bring in new jobs that “pay at or above a living wage. He also pledged to streamline the development process and clear roadblocks to construction that are caused by government bureaucracy while still protecting the environment, to help communities that want to protect their rural character, revitalize areas of urban blight, work across jurisdictional boundaries to “protect our tourism economic engine,” and protect against terrorism and “crimes of opportunity.”

Demings said he would work with the next sheriff, prompting a later reporter’s question about his possible successor. Demings said that he had spoken to several people interested in running, but it was still far too early in the process to discuss endorsements.

On the topic of community bonding, Demings said, “I promise you that I will work across political lines to make our community a great place to live work and visit. Orange County needs a unifier that can bond us together as one community, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.”

“Orange County is a wonderful kaleidoscope of colors” of residents from all over the world, he added. “We should celebrate and embrace that diversity and use this to strengthen commerce.”

He also expressed support for criminal justice reform, including helping those with mental illness or substance abuse problems. “We should be working to fill our playgrounds and not our prisons.”

Demings wrapped up his speech thanking his family for their support, especially his wife. “It’s a good thing to have backup like Congresswoman Val Demings by your side,” he said. “I’ll take her to do battle with me any day.”

In response to a reporter’s question, Demings confirmed that he will not step down and will continue to serve as Orange County Sheriff during the campaign. “I’m going to run through the finish line, and will continue to serve right through taking office on December 4, 2018,” he said as his supporters cheered. His current term as Sheriff would otherwise end in 2020.

A top Democratic operative close to the Demings told the Orlando Political Observer that Demings’ campaign is “obviously” in good shape so far. His decades in public office and high name recognition will be very helpful. “But this will not be a coronation,” the operative said, noting that “at least one, maybe two” other high profile Democrats were considering running.

On the Republican side, current Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs (R) is term limited and cannot run for reelection. Several current and former Republican elected officials are reportedly considering running, but no one has taken any formal steps so far. The Republican operatives who spoke to the Orlando Political Observer agreed that Demings was not invincible but would be a serious challenge, especially if he maintained the bipartisan tone of his announcement speech.

The Orange County Mayor’s race is nonpartisan, but the party affiliation of the candidates is hardly a secret, and Demings can expect to get support from the local and state Democrat organizations. According to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections website, the most recent voter registration data shows the county has 339,460 Democrats, 216,781 Republicans, 240,442 independents, and 3,029 registered with third parties, for a total of 799,712 registered voters.

The primary election will be August 28, 2018 and the general election November 6, 2018.

Watch Demings’ announcement speech:

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.

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