Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings launched his campaign for Orange County Mayor last month with much fanfare and his Congresswoman wife, U.S. Rep. Val Demings (D-Florida), by his side, but as the Orlando Political Observer reported earlier today, his first month of fundraising was shockingly weak.
Demings raised a paltry $8,340 in July, and $5,000 — about 60 percent — came from just one developer. Five companies (Holm Real Estate LLC, Metro Corral Partners Inc., Metro Corral Partners LLC, Holm Donuts LLC, and The Daytona Pig Stand Inc.), all with the same Winter Park office address, each gave Demings $1,000.
The Florida Division of Corporations online database shows that four of these businesses list Eric Holm as their registered agent and sole manager or director, and his wife Diane is the registered agent and sole director of The Daytona Pig Stand Inc.
Holm is chiefly known for his Golden Corral restaurant franchises, a group of more than 30 locations he operates in the Central Florida area as Metro Corral Partners. He also has several local Corner Bakery Cafe locations and a few years ago broke ground on a Fairfield Inn & Suites, a hotel brand in the Marriott corporate family.
In 2013, Metro Corral Partners filed a lawsuit against Wallack Holdings, LLC, the owner and developer of a planned Mango’s Tropical Cafe, related to a dispute over the parking needs of the new nightclub and restaurant (Orange County Circuit Civil Case No. 2013-CA-011108-O).
Holm objected to variances that Wallack Holdings sought, and eventually obtained, from the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, and filed an additional lawsuit against the County Commission in 2015 appealing their approval of Wallack Holdings’ request to rezone their property (Orange County Circuit Civil Case No. 2015-CA-002295-O).
After several years of litigation, Metro Corral Partners eventually voluntarily dismissed both cases and the Orange County Commission approved the plans for the parking garage Wallack Holdings wanted.
While none of this suggests illegal, unethical, or otherwise improper activity by either Holm, his businesses, or Demings, it is interesting that a developer with issues before the Orange County Commission has provided the majority of the financial support to Demings campaign so far.
Holm also has the ability to donate far more to Demings than the initial $5,000 his companies already gave. The contribution limit for this race is $1,000 and neither he nor his wife have contributed individually yet, and they both have dozens of additional business entities that could potentially make contributions as well.
Again, it should be emphasized that there is nothing indicating that these contributions are illegal or improper, but it is a mismatch with the grassroots message Demings sought to portray at his campaign launch. The lack of financial support from people in the community is likely to make Democrats pause and wonder if Demings is as strong of a candidate as he claimed.
Campaigns often take some time to ramp up, and Demings is still the only candidate in the race with significant name recognition or political experience, but that will undoubtedly soon change. The primary election will be August 28, 2018 and the general election November 6, 2018, leaving just over a year for Demings to raise funds and get his message to the nearly 800,000 registered voters in Orange County.
Even Demings’ expenditures more closely resemble a dormant committee account than an active candidate, spending less than thirty dollars total in July to pay for an order of checks and a small PayPal fee.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.