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West Orange Times & Observer Friday, Aug. 5, 2022 1 week ago

Candidate Q&A: Jerry Demings, Orange County Mayor

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Read our exclusive Q&A with Orange County Mayor candidate Jerry Demings.
by: Annabelle Sikes Staff Writer

BIO:

Age: 63

City/town of residence: Unincorporated West Orange County

Family: Wife: Congresswoman Val Demings; three adult children; five grandchildren

Education: AA, BS Finance and MBA

Qualifications: Current Mayor, former Orange County Sheriff, former Deputy County Administrator, former Orlando police chief, former accountant and tax preparer, completed real estate school, former adjunct college instructor

What are the key differences between you and your opponents?

The key difference between me and my opponents is experience. None of them have any experience in key leadership positions at the county level. None of them have been a mayor, sheriff, police chief, deputy county administrator, interim jail director or accountant. Nor have they managed during a local state of emergency, and none are as familiar with the breadth and complexities of Orange County Government. I have commanded many high-risk incidents as a law enforcement executive and led Orange County's response and recovery efforts during the present pandemic as mayor. My leadership roles in this community are numerous: I served as Chair of the Central Florida Community Rail Commission (SUNRAIL), Chair of the Central Florida Regional Transit Authority, Chair of the Orange County Public Safety Coordinating Council, Chair of the Orange County Tourist Development Council, Vice Chair of the Central Florida Expressway Authority, Chair of Career Source of Central Florida Consortium and Treasurer of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Board of Directors. I was the Founding President of the Florida Association of Constitutional Officers and was President of the Florida Sheriff's Association. I served on the Florida Supreme Court's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Task Force, Florida Governor Rick Scott's Citizen Safety Task Force, Govern Jeb Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council and served on the FEMA National Advisory Council during the Obama and Trump Administrations. In other words, I have served in bi-partisan roles for decades. It is the combination of these experiences that make me uniquely qualified for re-election. The citizens of Orange County deserve to have experienced, competent, well-trained leadership that could lead during any situation, including managing the day-to-day county operations, as well as leading during crises.  

Why should voters cast their votes for you?

I humbly ask Orange County residents for their vote because of my loyal and dedicated public service to Orange County for 41 years. They don't have to guess about my leadership, because it is proven.  I have led during the best of times and the worst of times in our community. My record includes leadership during events such as those associated with September 11, 2001, the hurricanes of 2004 and after, the Pulse Night Club Massacres of 2016 and the Pandemic of 2020 to present. Given that the fundamental reason that government exists is to keep the people safe, my experience in this regard stands well above that of my opponents. I am a certified Florida law enforcement officer, graduate of the FBI National Academy and Executive Institute and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government State and Local Program and I am well versed in what it takes to protect our homeland and simultaneously keep us open for business. I have been recognized by the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board, Orlando Magazine, Onyx Magazine, IBA Business Magazine, civic groups, professional associations, fraternal organizations, philanthropic groups, employers, news organizations and numerous others. Additionally, I have received over 500 awards and accolades for my career of service to this community. 

What are the three most pressing issues facing Orange County today, and how will you address them?

Managing the county's population growth is a pressing issue. I am addressing this challenge through the new Vision 2050" Orange County Comprehensive Plan that is scheduled for adoption by the Board of County Commission in the Fall of 2022. Additionally, in 2020 we created the Orange County 2030 Sustainable Operations and Resilience Action Plan. The goal is to ensure that Orange County grows responsibly.   

Housing affordability and availability is a present challenge. Prior to the global pandemic, the first community-wide issue that I tackled was creating a plan to increase the diversity and availability of housing types in Orange County.  In 2019, I appointed a citizen group that assisted staff in the creation of Orange County's Housing for All Plan of action for a ten-year period. The plan remains relevant today and includes building over 30,000 housing units by 2030 in addition to those that would have been built by existing rates of production. The plan includes rewriting existing building permit processes, changing land use codes, creating builder/developer incentives, creating public/private/philanthropic partnerships to build new housing and retaining and repurposing existing buildings to accommodate demand.  

Orange County's transportation infrastructure lacks a true multimodal mass transit system with options and is insufficient to move motorists and commuters throughout the county and region. We held multiple community meetings and received over 19,000 completed surveys in drafting a plan of action. The solution involves creating a dedicated funding source that would be transformative. I led efforts to place a Charter County Infrastructure 1% Sales Tax Referendum on the ballot for consideration during the 2022 general election. If passed, the tax will generate approximately $600 million annually during the 20-year term of tax. It is projected that for every $1 of investment from the tax will result in $4 of economic impact and it would create thousands of high wage jobs and business opportunities. It is the only methodology in which the cost of the plan will mostly be paid by other than local residents - 51% or more of persons paying the tax would be tourists. It would allow for expanded SUNRAIL service east and west with extended hours of operations; improved LYNX bus connectivity, access, headways and reduced fares for low-wage workers and senior citizens. Forty-five percent of the revenue will be dedicated to mass transit, 45% will be allocated for roadway improvement to include bicycle, pedestrian and traffic engineering technology enhancements and 10% of the proceeds will be allocated to the cities for roadway and traffic improvements within their respective jurisdictions. The plan has been endorsed by both workers represented by the AFL-CIO and its affiliated labor unions, as well as many professional business associations. The majority of the municipalities have also issued resolutions in support of the initiative.  

In District 1, growth and growing pains continue to be important issues for voters. As mayor, how will you work toward solutions regarding those issues?

I will continue to work with the District 1 Commissioner, the Board of County Commission, residents and business owners in the area to address growing pains. We will balance the need to increase density to accommodate the need for housing along with the need to preserve rural settlements and environmental lands. The Board of County Commission has committed to a sustainability plan to expend $100 million in 10 years to acquire an additional 23,000 acres of preservation land.  I appointed Orange County's first Chief Sustainability and Resiliency Officer in 2020 to provide focus to this effort and ensure collaboration between stakeholders.  

District 1 constituents have differences of opinion regarding the representation they receive from the sitting District 1 commissioner. As mayor, how would you address those concerns? 

I live in District 1, and I am fully engaged in many discussions with constituents about the needs of the district.  I will continue to engage with the homeowners' associations, chambers, schools, and other stakeholders to make decisions in the best interest of all. I have appointed numerous District 1 residents to the county's many advisory boards, and I will continue to do so to make certain that the people's voices are heard.  I frequently visit businesses, nonprofits, schools, places of worship, festivals, cultural events, galas and other special events to gain perspective on the issues.  

If you had a magic wand, what would you change immediately in Orange County?  

If I had a magic wand, I would reduce the price of housing and inflation.

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Annabelle Sikes is a staff writer at the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She graduated in May 2021 from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in sociology.  Her past...

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