Candidate Orange County mayor
Orange County Mayor, 2018 to present
Orange County Sheriff, 2008-2018
Orlando Chief of Police, 1981-2002)
Orange County Mayor
Florida State University, BS, Finance
Orlando College, MBA
Harvard Kennedy School of Government
FBI National Academy
Democratic incumbent Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings, 63, faces challenges for the mayor’s gavel from Republicans Chris Messina and Tony Sabb and Democrat Kelly Semrad. Unlike closed primary races, Democrats, Republicans and independents can all vote in nonpartisan races regardless of party affiliation or no party affiliation. The candidate with more than 50 percent of the vote will be mayor. If no candidate wins a majority in the primary, the top two will face off in a run-off election. In 2018, Demings, the county’s first Black mayor, was elected with more than 61 percent of the vote.
Demings voted with the rest of the County Commission to unanimously pass a renters relief ordinance. The new ordinance requires landlords to provide 60 days notice before boosting tenants’ rent more than 5 percent, Spectrum News 13 reported. Demings said this gives people time to relocate if they can no longer stay in their current housing.
Demings’ key project during his first term as mayor, as Florida Politics reported has been improving the county’s transportation. And, after some thorny negotiations with county commissioners, he won approval to put a 1-cent sales-tax increase to 7.5 percent on the November ballot, which is expected to $600 million annually to improve roads, Sunrail commuter trains and Lynx bus service.
“There may be no good time to increase taxes but there are better times, and that time is now,” Demings said, pointing to the federal government’s plan to start distributing more than $1 trillion for infrastructure projects under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The business community hailed the plan while critics said it didn’t do enough to address pedestrian and bike traffic or make use of new and emerging technologies, such as electric buses or self-driving cars. They also expressed concern about environmental impacts.
Demings has repeatedly sparred with Gov. Ron DeSantis. The mayor recently criticized the governor’s decision to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, without doing an economic impact study, which will go into effect in June 2023. DeSantis was apparently retaliating against the Walt Disney Company’s pushback against the Parental Rights in Education law (that critics have dubbed the "Don’t Say Gay” law). The move would saddle Orange County with providing all city services to Disney along with shouldering $1 billion in debt.
“It’s obvious that this is political retribution that is at play here, and that’s probably not the best solution,” Demings said, according to WFTV Channel 9. (DeSantis later said the state would take on the responsibilities, according to Spectrum News 13.)
Demings also often battled with DeSantis about how to handle Covid-19. During the height of the pandemic, Demings issued executive orders, which mandated masks for residents and visitors, fined businesses that didn’t enforce safety protocols and required county employees to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30, 2021, unless they had a serious religious objection or health condition that prevented their vaccination. DeSantis reversed those fines, penalized school districts that imposed mask mandates and threatened to fine cities that instituted vaccine mandates. Ultimately, DeSantis stripped local officials of their ability to impose restrictions to stop the virus spread.
Demings said he believed the governor’s decisions were “politically motivated and that the county “would deal” with DeSantis’ threat, either through the courts or another manner, according to PBS NewsHour. “At the end of the day, it is our goal to protect the people in our greater community, to keep them safe, which is a fundamental role of government.”
Born and raised in Orlando, Demings has spent his life breaking barriers in public service. He served as Orlando’s first Black police chief for 21 years, was elected as Orange County’s first Black sheriff (the Orlando Times called him the “people’s sheriff”), was the first Black president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association and then was elected mayor. Then-Gov. Rick Scott awarded him the Heroes Award for his leadership response during the Pulse Nightclub Massacre. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his nearly 40 years of public service from former President Barack Obama. He is half of a Democratic political power couple that includes Congresswoman Val Demings, currently running to unseat Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.