Read our exclusive Q&A with Orange County mayoral candidate Jerry Demings.
Why are you running for the open Orange County mayoral seat?
I have over 37 years of competent, drama-free leadership as a public servant in Orange County. I believe my experience as a leader in both private and public sectors make me the best choice for the position.
This is my home and the home of my children and grandchildren. I want to lead Orange County to be the best city in the United States to live. My record of accomplishment speaks for itself. In my role as Orange County Sheriff for the past 10 years, I would rise early thinking about the safety and wellness of our residents and how to make our community better. We have reduced crime by 30%, made neighborhoods safer, and my team has helped our region through some of its darkest hours.
With the support of the Board of County Commissioners, I was also able to raise employee wages while still maintaining a balanced, fiscally conservative budget.
As Mayor and CEO of Orange County, I will bring the same enthusiasm and focus to the job and will dedicate myself to making our economy and infrastructure the best in the country. I will engage our educational partners to ensure we are training and preparing our citizens for the higher wage jobs of tomorrow. I will work tirelessly to build a regional commitment to increase wages, support high-impact collaborations and to provide funding to support job creation, job preparation and job access for all. I love Orange County and believe if we invest in our residents, our residents are capable of great things.
Describe three reasons why county residents should vote for you.
- I am uniquely qualified to be Orange County Mayor having served as Orlando Police Chief, Orange County Deputy County Administrator, Interim Jail Director and Orange County Sheriff for three terms. I produced results by being an innovator and reducing crime by over 30% and saving over $12 million of budgeted funds during the last decade. I opened three new substations throughout the county and brought new technology to the Sheriff's Office such as police body-worn cameras, automated reporting and text to the 9-1-1 system.
- I demonstrated my commitment to diversity and promoted minorities and women to the highest ranks they ever held within the Sheriff’s Office and I will do the same as mayor.
- I have been endorsed by broad segments of the Orange County community. I am endorsed by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and many current and former local mayors. Endorsements include business chambers, the lodging and hospitality industry, the Orlando Regional Realtors, Greater Orlando Builders Association, Apartment Association of Central Florida, Fraternal Order of Police, International Association of Firefighters, Equality Florida, Vamos 4 PR Action Association, Latin American Civic Alliance and many of the local elected officials. My support is local, regional, statewide and national.
What would be your priorities for the county, if elected?
Affordable housing, transportation, and public safety.
How would you deal with the county’s affordable housing shortage?
I believe there is a sense of urgency when it comes to affordable housing. We cannot jumpstart affordable housing development if we don’t make the construction of affordable housing profitable: My blueprint to address the affordable housing crisis would include the offer of incentives for investors and builders with a four-pronged approach.
- Waive impact fees for low-income affordable housing projects
- Expedite permitting processes for builders
- Offer bonuses to landlords who house clients in housing programs for the chronic homeless
- Seek other subsidies to qualifying programs
Orange County just finished a comprehensive, regional discussion regarding affordable housing. The final report was recently released with dozens of specific changes local governments can implement to increase the supply of affordable housing and remove unnecessary regulations. I look forward to having one of my first acts as mayor to pass an ordinance and new land-use rules and permitting process that will make Orange County more business-friendly.
Additionally, since 2003, more than $2 billion collected for Florida’s affordable housing programs have been diverted to other line items in the State’s budget. These funds are statutorily generated for the Sadowski Trust Fund and are derived from revenues generated by state documentary tax fees collected on real estate transactions. I know my way around the halls of the Capitol and I can be a strong advocate in Tallahassee and Washington, DC. I have been President of both the Florida Sheriffs Association and Florida Constitutional Officers Association and understand that to get results, we will need to create a strong legislative strategy and advocacy effort.
I will aggressively lobby the Legislature to fully budget the Sadowski Fund for affordable housing, create special allocations of low income tax credits for “shovel ready” affordable housing projects and increase the flexible use of SHIIP funds for the development of more rental units; current rules require 65% of allocations to be spent on home ownership and flexibility in the ratio may be more attractive to private investors.
What would you do differently to balance growth and transportation infrastructure?
The Orange County Mayor plays a pivotal leadership role in developing solutions that balance growth with the transportation needs of the county. We must reduce the number of people reliant on automobiles for individual transportation. This requires a recommitment to smart growth initiatives which focus on mixed-use developments that create centers of commerce where people work close to where they live and then connect such centers via a robust transportation system.
This system should include rapid transit, commuter rail, high-speed rail, ride-share vehicles and expanded use of autonomous vehicles. I will continue to support Lynx in its pursuit of fleet alternatives that increase ridership and efficiency. We should explore a dedicated funding source to support mass transit. I am not certain what is the best source of funding, but I believe that a fractional sales tax has promise. The 2040 Central Florida Expressway Master Plan is a living document that provides a regional framework for moving forward. With enhanced capacity, connectivity, affordability and efficiency, our transportation challenges can improve. We are at a critical juncture in our growth and our decisions today will determine our ability to remain a viable growth market.
We must balance growth by developing a scalable mass transit system within the region, high-speed commuter rail between Orlando and Tampa and Daytona. In addition, my plan calls for reducing reliance on fossil fuel powered vehicles which ultimately aides in protecting the environment. To help bring focus to sustainability, I will appoint a sustainability manager and make smart growth a priority.
In your opinion, what is key to improving Orange County residents’ quality of life?
I believe diversifying our economy and increasing average wages in Orange County is crucial to the quality of life for our community. Higher wages allow for families to afford better housing, healthcare, quality education and access to the arts and entertainment necessary to maintain high standards of living. Secondly, it is my opinion that public safety is also one of the most important issues impacting quality of life. I would continue to increase the number of first responders and provide them with the pay, equipment and training needed to keep crime low and provide quality service.
How would your approach to the role of county mayor differ from the current mayor?
I don’t know how my approach would differ from the current mayor, however, my leadership style is participatory and focuses on the delivery of quality services that meets the needs of our citizens at a reasonable cost. I am results-oriented, and I believe we should challenge ourselves to ensure that we are utilizing best practices with innovation as the centerpiece. I pride myself on being a visionary, which is a person who anticipates the need for something before it’s needed and acts in a timely manner. I have done that as sheriff and will do that as your mayor.