Interview with Val Demings

Interview with Val Demings – Candidate for Mayor of Orange County

Conducted by: West Orlando News Online

Date: May 9, 2014

Val Demings - Candidate for Mayor of Orange County
Val Demings – Candidate for Mayor of Orange County

WONO: Candidate Demings, you ran for Congress two years ago and came close to unseating the incumbent. Now you are running to becoming the next Mayor of Orange County. Why did you decide to challenge Mayor Jacobs? What would you like to see differently in Orange County that is not being done?

Val Demings: You know, when I was asked by a number of people to run for Congress, my first response was, “You got to be kidding.” I’m not a politician. I see things as right and wrong not very grey having been in law enforcement for almost 28 years. I remember having conversations with some politicians saying, “Look, no offense to you, but I don’t think I’d make a good politician.” And then they started talking about some of the things that were really going wrong in our country – seniors who were scared to death they were going to lose their Social Security benefits and the fact that one-in-six children lives in poverty, many of whom go to bed hungry every night, in the greatest country in the world.

Another issue that came up was equal opportunity or lack of it – many kids who have done the right thing, worked hard, made good grades but may never have the opportunity to go to college or university because their parents either don’t have the right name or the right bank account. Being a person who has really been the victim of discrimination – born poor, black, and female, I’m just committed to making sure that everybody who is willing to work hard has an opportunity to succeed in this country that we say is the greatest country in the world. These are some of the issues that motivated me to run for Congress. I knew that I was going up against someone whose name was well-known but it doesn’t change my passion and my commitment to equality and equal opportunity. So I made a decision to run.

There were some people who thought I didn’t have a chance and when I announced in July of 2011 – of course the election was in November 2012 – they said this is a Republican district and Republicans aren’t going to take it. And then about a month or so before the election, it went to a toss-up district. And I believe it did because, I had really worked hard and gotten out and talked to the people about things that mattered to them, not trying to decide for them. And we came within 3½ percentage points of the winner, which was pretty amazing. I remember there’s a local newspaper that said, “It is a rare person that loses an election, but still rises in prominence,” and that really touched my heart. So, that race was over but my commitment is not over.

I thought long and hard about the mayoral race. And having served as Chief of Police in an executive position – setting goals, making sure those goals were seen through – I thought that running for Orange County Mayor would be something where I could really have a hands-on opportunity to make change in my community. In making that decision, I talked to lots of people, met with many different groups, prayed about it, discussed it with my family and of course had their blessings and their support, and ultimately chose to run for Orange County Mayor.

Specifically, I want to make sure that the road of opportunity in Orange County flows through every neighborhood. I believe there are some good things that have happened, but I also know there is much more potential. Let me give you one example. When we look at the Venues projects occurring downtown Orlando, they are in an area about a tenth of the size of the county. But I think we could do so much more though, for every person who lives in this county, so they have an opportunity to succeed, regardless of their bank account, economic status or ethnic background.

As Orange County Mayor, I would be the number one ambassador for this county, but beyond that, throughout the State of Florida, across the nation and the world – making Orange County, Florida, the envy, because we are very aggressively and progressively on the move. So, I want to help, I want to move us forward – and this is just not about the next four years, but really create a vision for our county. In other words, what do we want to look like in the next 20 years, 30 years or 50 years. I want to put programs in place that celebrate equality and opportunities that would certainly outlive me.

WONO: The Mayor touts the now 59 million annual visitors that come to Orlando/Orange County. In fact the area is the number one tourist destination in the U.S., yet, many don’t feel the impact of those tourist dollars, most jobs are low wage and there’s wide-spread poverty and hunger in Orlando/Orange County. Is there something to be done differently here?

Val Demings: I met recently with the owner of Taste of Jamaica, a restaurant on north Orange Blossom Trail and we talked specifically about that. It’s great to talk about 59 million tourists coming to the area and we welcome them. Of course, tourism is the engine that drives our economy, but if there are no marketing programs to ensure those tourists migrate outside the traditional tourist areas and really get an opportunity to see what we have to offer, then if you’re running a restaurant on north Orange Blossom Trail, the tourist dollars spent in Orange County doesn’t benefit you at all. So, as Mayor, I would welcome an opportunity to sit with Visit Orlando and talk about how we can better market some of the best kept secrets, including restaurants and other businesses, that are outside of the main tourist areas. This will not only benefit the local businesses, but the visitor would get a richer cultural experience of all that Orange County has to offer.

So, we want to make sure that every business – not just the giants or major corporations and we need the giants, don’t we – including the mom-and-pop business that has been passed down for generations and the young entrepreneur who made the decision to do business in Orange County, benefits from all that we have to offer.

WONO: There has been much talk about increasing the Federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by Democrats in Congress. And in Tallahassee there were a couple of bills filed to raise Florida’s minimum wage, but of course, they didn’t get very far. Metro-Orlando ranks dead last in terms of the lowest paying job market among the 50 largest metropolitan cities across America. What’s your view on increasing the minimum wage? Should the minimum wage be raised?

Val Demings: One of my visions for Orange County is, it is seen as a county that takes care of its own. We have a lot to be proud of in Orange County, but being the lowest paid metropolitan area in the nation, is not something to be proud of. We need to be a county that takes care of its own. We need to be a county that promotes making sure people have more access to capital and cash and that means putting more money in their pockets – more disposable money in the pockets of our families in Orange County. I think raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do. We need local officials … and not just local officials, but our community leaders to be advocates for our hard-working families who are doing it right and living in a county that we say has so much to offer, but yet are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table and provide a safe environment for their children.

The Superintendent of Orange County Public Schools said the other day that children are our most precious commodity. And I agree. But they shouldn’t have to worry about adult issues. They shouldn’t have to worry about being homeless, they shouldn’t have to worry about not having enough to eat, they shouldn’t have to worry about where they are going to sleep that night, or being able to afford the supplies – you know when the teacher gives them that supply list that can be $40 or more, at the beginning of the school year. Children shouldn’t have to worry about those things. But unfortunately, in a place that 59 million people want to visit every year, we have children who are worried about those things. We should be a county that takes care of its own. To be clear, I support raising the minimum wage to $10.10. Let’s take care of our own. Let’s not find a way to say ‘no.’ Let’s find ways to say, ‘yes.’

I love lots of quotes, many by Dr. Martin Luther King, and I love Shirley Chisolm’s quotes too. There is a quote though I want to share by Robert Kennedy who said, “You look at things as they are and ask why, I look at things that never were, and ask why not?” Raise the minimum wage for our hardworking families who are doing it right and playing by the rules. It’s the right thing to do.

WONO: You have been outspoken and supportive of the Venues projects and their potential benefits to area residents. Billions have been spent. But the reality is, many people who live in the shadows of the Venues continue to struggle and have not benefitted at all from these major projects. What would you have done differently in that process? How would you have ensured that more of those Tourist Development Tax dollars accrued to residents?

Val Demings: You know, we can only become a great county … we’re only as great as our weakest link. Right? So it’s about providing opportunities for people who need opportunities the most. Growth and development is absolutely wonderful. I enjoy Orlando Magic games and the Amway Center is state-of-the-art. I believe it’s the best in the country. The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, that’s wonderful and major league soccer, a lot of people are excited about it. Renovating the Citrus Bowl, that’s great too. I go at least once a year to the Florida Classic games with my family. But people matter – people matter more than things. So, bringing development into the area is good, but if you’re only displacing the people who are the most underserved who will never be able to afford a ticket to the Arts Center, never be able to watch a game because they are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, can’t attend the Florida Classic and other wonderful things that will happen at the Citrus Bowl, that’s not right.

When we bring development into an area, the people who are most affected or displaced should benefit. For example, if the people who live in Parramore – I have worked in the Parramore area for almost 30 years – agreed to sell their property and want to relocate, then you’ve got to be able to pay them Fair Market Value. Also, you’ve got to be able to pay them monies that will allow them to relocate to an area where they can rebuild and regrow, or expand. This could mean that you pay a little bit more to make them whole again in another area. You’ve got to look at the property values in Parramore versus some other areas where they may have to live. I think sitting down at the table with Parramore residents, those who are going to be most affected, and asking them what they would like to see result from these projects, is what should happen. Is it jobs? Is it that you want to leave the area? What will it take to help you relocate? What does it mean to your children that may have to leave their schools and go to new schools? It’s about making families whole. Certainly, when new development comes into our area, which is a good thing, the most vulnerable in our society should benefit from it and we have to make sure as leaders that this happens.

WONO: What are your thoughts on the gentrification taking place in Parramore? You have touched on it in your earlier answer, but are you concerned that many people who have lived in Parramore all their life are being forced out? How would you balance new development with maintaining established residents and the history and culture of the area?

Val Demings: I remember when I moved to Orlando in 1983 and hit the streets as a police officer in 1984, and I remember walking and talking with residents and business owners on Church Street in Parrmore. They told me in the Parramore area there were only two hotels – the Wells Built Hotel and the Statler Hotel – where African-Americans could perform. Nationally-known, world renown performers could come to those two places that would house them when they came to our area. We talked about many of the business owners on Church Street, African-Americans running their own businesses and doing well.

Listening to those stories was just fascinating to me. And then we watched Parramore’s rich heritage decline and virtually disappear. Some people, when they had the means they chose to leave and others had the means to leave, but chose to stay because that’s home for them. As I said earlier, growth and development are wonderful and if people want to leave the area, then city and county officials need to make sure they have the means to be able to do so and be made whole in a different area. But there has to be a balance between new development coming into the area and the established residents to ensure they are not economically and socially marginalized.

What I am saying is, people matter more than things. People matter more than Venues. And there has to be a balance, and we have to take care of people first.

I spent my whole life… before I became a police officer, I was a social worker, taking care of people. Then I hit the streets as a police officer taking care of people and doing more than just arresting people and putting them in jail. I knew if we were going to make communities better – we wanted to change communities permanently – we had to deal with some of the social ills in the community. And this meant helping people get their GEDs, helping people find jobs, helping people with their interviewing skills to secure better jobs. It also meant making sure children were okay and didn’t have to worry about adult issues. People matter more than anything. People are so important. I talked about this the other day at the Orange County Commission meeting. In the U.S. Constitution the first words in the preamble are, “We the people.” President Lincoln in one of his speeches, the Gettysburg Address said, “…government for the people, by the people and of the people, shall never perish from the earth.”

We have no excuse today, when we forget that people matter more than anything, because even the Founders of this country thought it was important enough to talk about it. It’s about people, not things.

And so, these deals that are being made, these contracts that are being agreed to, we must always ask questions like: How are people in this area going to benefit? What are we going to do with people who are going to be displaced? Every leader should care about that. They are not representing buildings, they’re representing people – moms, dads, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, and children, and grandparents. I want to be elected mayor to represent people. If we take care of people, beautiful things will come.

WONO: Mass transit is very much in the news and it got a major boost with the recent launch of SunRail. What do you see happening next? Is SunRail the answer to the transit needs of the residents in Orange County?

Val Demings: You know the answer is: I wish Gov. Scott would’ve taken the $2 billion from President Obama, from the federal government to start high-speed rail in the state of Florida. But there again, he chose to play politics as opposed to doing what was best in the state. We can build all the roadways, but we do know we are outgrowing our roadways. We feel it every time we get onto Interstate-4 especially in the mornings and evenings. High speed rail is really the answer for transportation in our state, in every state. Other countries have had it for decades. We need to move in that direction. If we are not moving in that direction we are moving in the wrong direction and we are behind the times, it’s time to get with it.

I am happy to see SunRail get here and rode it on the first day. It was a great experience. During the train ride, I talked to some of the people to see what they thought of the experience. It was interesting, on the day that I rode, some prep school students from St. Mark AME Church were also riding. Many of them had never ridden a train before so there was a lot of excitement. Some of the issues riders talked about were: having adequate parking, making sure that the parking facilities were well-lit, or were safe and secure enough. These were the things on their minds.

So, SunRail is a good thing and we are excited about it. But one of the challenges that we still have with SunRail is, once a person goes from one station to the other, how do they get to their final destination? My understanding is that the number of LYNX buses would have to double to make sure that they could adequately handle the volume of passengers. I know too that city leaders are looking at other options, including bike-sharing.

Our mass transit program, in this case LYNX, we know works, but we also know that the bus system has no dedicated funding source. If LYNX is going to be a major part of the completion of SunRail, then there needs to be dedicated funding. I believe there are two options: private or public funding. My mom used to talk a lot about if you want to know where a person’s priorities are just look at their checkbook.

Studies show that employees are riding LYNX. And I think we should sit down with employers and discuss the fact that the bus system doesn’t have a dedicated funding source and the majority of their employees are riding LYNX. We should ask employers for their input and possible solutions to address this issue because, we can’t keep, and I’ll borrow this term from D.C., we cannot keep “kicking the can down the road.” LYNX is not in a position to plan long-term because, from year-to-year its funding is uncertain. So there must be a dedicated funding source. I know that a rental car surcharge was being considered, but that effort failed, so now we “kick the can down the road.”

We also need to make sure that LYNX is operating efficiently too. Are there ways, operationally, to save dollars? We must look at how LYNX advertises. Having a bus wrap with your business information going all around the city, I think, is pretty doggone good advertising. But we must still ask the question as to whether LYNX is really maximizing its ability to advertise. I understand that the fare only pays for about 30% of the maintenance cost, which means there’s a huge gap there. We are going to have to make some tough decisions about LYNX. We need to talk to stakeholders and come up with a dedicated funding source for LYNX. Private funding, public dollars, those are our choices.

WONO: Following up on this, I know that a regional expressway authority is in the making. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Val Demings: I think it is a shame that the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority is in such shambles and has basically fallen apart. We know without a shadow-of-doubt that there were some issues and it fell apart. But I do believe that we need to think regionally. I think, in order to keep moving forward in Orange County, whether it’s in tourism, transportation or any other area, we need to think regionally, that’s where we want to be.

I remember a few years ago when I was the Captain in Special Operations – Special Operations is in charge of traffic enforcement within the police department – I was coming from a meeting off International Drive with the traffic engineer. Here we were at about three o’clock going east on I-4 and we are sitting still. Here you have the captain in charge of traffic enforcement and the traffic engineer and we are stuck in traffic. I looked at him – his name is Charles and I said, “Charles isn’t this an odd place to be? Here we are and we are stuck in traffic on I-4.” I said, “We’ve got to do something. Why are we stuck in traffic?” He responded by saying, “That’s because on I-4, if you spend 20 minutes you can go through several jurisdictions and it’s the jurisdictions that can’t come together to decide what’s in the best interest of Interstate-4.”

Also, I remember being on I-4 again, during the NCAA tournament. We were so proud that the first games were played here and we were celebrating. I was going east on I-4 and the westbound traffic was at a standstill; east bound was slowing down. I thought now we have all these visitors here for the game, we don’t want them stuck on I-4. We want them on our malls, we want them in our businesses, at our restaurants, we want them in our mom-and-pop shops, seeing our secret treasures.

So, we’ve got to think differently, we’ve got to think regionally, that’s where we need to be. I think a regional expressway authority is going to be good for our area. If we want to get the region moving, I think that’s a good thing. But we need to make sure that we have the best talent on the board, people who are not so concerned about the next election, not so concerned about their political appointment. But rather their first priority is to keep Central Florida moving.

WONO: Homelessness is a major and growing problem in Orlando/Orange County. In fact, Mayor Dyer flagged it in his State of the City address recently. What are some of your thoughts on how the homeless challenge might be addresses?

Val Demings: First we have to admit that we have a homeless problem, then we have to attack it, regionally. I was appointed to serve on a regional commission on homelessness and I have seen the homeless problem long before that as a police officer. Homelessness is directly in the face of the officers who are out there on the streets. When we see a person in the parks after hours, violating the city ordinance because they have no place to go, or they’re out on the streets on a chilly or rainy night, I can tell you right now, law enforcement does not want to deal with that. Law enforcement does not want to take someone to jail who was in a place they shouldn’t be, because they have no place to go.

So, again, first we have to admit there’s a problem. We have talked about a one-stop, one-shop shelter or facility where a person who is homeless can go to be assessed. What are their needs? If it is mental health, let’s address that. Let’s put you in contact with some counselors that can help. If it is getting your credentials so that you can go out and get a job – many homeless people don’t have the proper identification – then let’s help you with that. If it’s medical needs, let’s make sure that you are triaged properly and get the medical help that you need. I believe we should consider getting the homeless into temporary facilities with the goal of permanent housing. Imagine if we had a one-stop place where everybody can go and have their needs met.

When we discussed this in the regional commission the question arose as to where such a facility would be placed. Homelessness is not an Orange County issue, it’s not a Seminole County issue, it’s not a Osceola County issue, it’s not Lake County. We’ve done the studies. I think the 211 system which was the goal over the last few years is a great step in the right direction. Organizations like the Coalition for the Homeless and the Rescue Mission do an outstanding job, but they are stretched to capacity. Homelessness is a Central Florida issue and we need to get serious about really addressing it.

WONO: Citizens in Orange County want their elected officials to be more accountable to them. They want a greater stake in decisions that affect them. If elected, how will you keep yourself accountable to the citizens of Orange County and how will you go about providing for that increased participation?

Val Demings: When I was appointed the police chief in 2007, at the time crime was at an all–time high. I had some pretty aggressive ideas on how we were going to reduce the crime rate, but I also went to the people in some of those areas with the highest crime. I asked them why crime was so high in the area and what can be done to address it. One of the things I did very effectively was to talk to people about things that matter to them. What were their issues? I think a perfect example is the Palms Apartments, now Winter Covey. We had been responding to the Palms Apartments for 40 years in this community, dealing with violent crime, drugs and guns. There was a triple homicide in the middle of the day. I went there and met with the residents and asked how we could help to make the area safer for them and their children. Residents shared their frustrations about things community leaders had not done, things the police department had not done to deal with some of those quality of life issues.

One of the things they talked about was that many don’t have their GEDs. Was that a police issue? Perhaps not, but we are dealing with the effects of it. So, we got with Orange County Public Schools Adult Education Program and sponsored a GED program in the area. Talking to the people, you’re always more informed, stronger and better advised.

If you look at my record as a public servant, particularly as police chief, I was very, very accessible. That’s how communities grow. Go to the people and see what they have to say. Nobody knows better what’s going on in a particular community, with a particular issue than the people who live or work there. As mayor, I will be very accessible.  I don’t do well sitting locked away in the ivory tower behind doors. I love getting out and interacting and talking to people about things that matter. People matter.

WONO: The Board of Orange County Commission has been pre-occupied for the past several weeks with the “Brummer” proposals. What are your thoughts on non-partisan elections, term limits and petition initiatives? Do you think that the number of Commission districts should be increased from six to eight?

Val Demings: It’s very interesting. Let’s talk about non-partisan elections. There’s a lot of talk about informing the voters. A lot of campaign dollars are spent to get messages out so when voters go to the polls they can make an informed decision about who they want to represent them. It’s interesting talking to some of the volunteers who canvass neighborhoods. They say nine times out of ten, the first question that they get from the voter is, ‘what party is the candidate’? The voters want to know and people choose their parties for particular reasons. It provides the background for what they believe and what their values are. Why wouldn’t you want these voters whom you want to inform, to know what party you are in? What are you so afraid of? You made a conscious decision to join a particular party. There was no gun held to your head. You made that decision. Then after you tell them your party, your job is to inform them of your platform that either includes them or doesn’t. What we see in these non-partisan elections are that they have very partisan agendas. If you want to inform voters let’s tell them everything and I think starting with your party is a good place to begin, because the voters want to know that.

Secondly, making it more difficult for citizens to petition their government, I just don’t understand it. In the U.S. Constitution it says, ‘We the people…’ And one of the presidents that we adore, Abraham Lincoln, talked about government by the people, for the people and of the people. The Orange County Charter talks about citizens of Orange County and that decisions should not be made by the State, but made locally for Orange County. So why would we make it more difficult for citizens to petition their government, especially after what happened in 2012 with the whole Sick Leave initiative. I would be ashamed right after that travesty of justice, to make it more difficult. Are you saying it’s so easy for citizens to petition their government? It had never ever been done before. So, that says to me, it definitely isn’t that easy. It didn’t matter whether the mayor and Orange County commission were for or against it, or whether the people who you were representing were for or against it. Let the voters decide because, 50,000 voters who live in Orange County signed petitions to get it on the ballot. What you are saying is, you want to represent the people but ignore 50,000. So, then, I’ve got to ask the question: “Which people do you represent? Special interests and the privileged few?” Fifty thousand voters spoke pretty loudly and their efforts were undermined and ignored. Then you turn around now and say, we slapped you in the face in 2012, but now you know what, we are going to kick you by making it even more difficult for you. So I certainly do not agree with that process.

WONO: Term limits?

Val Demings: Regarding term limits for constitutional officers, when we look at those administrative positions, I believe we need people who bring expertise, particular skills, knowledge and experience to the job. What you are really trying to do is to improve efficiency and proficiency. Sometimes, an organization requires changes in its culture and I believe constitutional offices’ positions are totally different from legislative positions. You need more time and persons with experience in those very critical positions. But there again, let the voters decide. If you run on your record and report card, let the voters give you a report card. If the voters are happy they will keep you. If the voters are not they vote you out. But I believe it takes a certain level of experience in those positions that sometimes takes time to develop.

WONO: Should the number of Commission districts be increased from 6 to 8?

Val Demings: I wish the County had gotten it right in 2012. The Orange County Charter also says that the Commission should reflect the community in which it serves. As you know a lawsuit has been filed and will be heard in court very soon. The Hispanic community feels they were denied the opportunity to have a majority Hispanic district. I wish we had done it right the first time. I think too, the legal process should run its course.

I believe we should look at studies and definitely determine if there is a need to increase the number of districts. I listened to the discussion of the Commission members the other day it was very, very interesting. Looking at the number of citizens that are being served, especially as we go into those incorporated areas of Orange County, is there a need? If this is determined, then we would need to redraw every district, because you’ve got to do that. We would need to determine what the effect is on certain districts and whether there are adverse effects on other districts.

You know, it was one of those things that sounded great on the surface, but what I know is the Hispanic community wants what is right. They don’t want to have a seat on the Commission at the expense of another district. They want it to be done right. So, again, I would say, let the lawsuit run its course and then determine if there is a need to go from 6 to 8 districts based on the service level and the number of people who each commissioner represents. Then, if you redraw every district, is there an adverse effect in one of the districts? So the bottom line is, there’s a need to do that based on facts and not feelings.

WONO: As Mayor Val Demings what major policy initiative would you turn your attention to first?

Val Demings: As I envision my first 90 days in office, I want to get out and walk and talk with the business owners. I would walk and talk with some of the citizens in Orange County about what they would like to see in county government. But I do have three priorities of my own.

Public education. Where you decide to send your children is a personal decision made by each family. If you want to send your children to a private school or charter school that is a family’s personal decision. But when we talk about a workforce that can compete globally, we know that the majority of that workforce will come through the public school system. We need to make sure that our public schools create an environment conducive to learning. When did we go from teachers being a very glorified position, an honorable position to having them standing on street corners begging for better pay, better benefits? When did that happen? So, if we are going to build that workforce we’ve got to be able to continue to recruit the brightest and best into the teaching field and have state-of-the-art facilities that are conducive to learning. We also have to deal with overcrowding and the issues that arise from that too.

Economic development. Of course, economic development is important in an area you want to keep growing and keep moving forward. But we must make sure that it is smart growth and that we are going in the right direction. One of the things we talked about when we started this interview was smaller businesses who aren’t benefitting from all that Orange County has to offer. Let’s bring them to the table so when the 59 million visitors come, they’ll feel they have a fair chance and opportunity, and fair exposure.

Public safety. If you want to move your family to our county, if you want to expand your business to Orange County, public safety matters. Public safety has to be the number one concern, because everything else is built upon that. But not just public safety on our streets, but making sure we have the safest schools for our children to learn; making sure that we have the proper oversight over our Orange County Corrections for the men and women who are working hard every day; making sure that our fire department has the tools and technologies that they need to effectively do their job, and be able to continue to have exceptional response times. Public safety matters. So my top policy initiatives are public education, economic development, and public safety.

WONO: How is your mayoral campaign going? And why should voters elect Val Demings as their next mayor?

Val Demings: When I look at my background – my mother cleaned houses, my father was a janitor and they never wanted a handout, they wanted a hand up. They worked hard to make sure that their seven children had opportunities. They set a foundation, taught us great values and how to work hard to create and take advantage of opportunities presented. So, with this in mind, I am passionate and I am committed to making sure that the road of opportunity runs through every neighborhood in Orange County. I want to make sure that regardless of your ethnic background or your socio-economic status, your family name or how much money you have in the bank, that you have an opportunity to live to your full potential. I am not going to play favorites and pick and choose who I want to represent. I want to be a representative for everybody.

I kicked off my campaign on January 9 and hit the ground running. We are raising money every day, taking nothing for granted. The campaign contributions are important in order to do two things: Orange County is 1,000 square miles and even though we are out knocking on doors and talking to the voters, I cannot walk 1,000 miles in the amount of time that we have until August. So, we need the dollars to be able to communicate our message to the voters. My message is one of inclusion, one of equal opportunity and one of taking care of our own. We’ve got to have the funds to do that so we are raising dollars every day, though it’s never enough. There are people who give us their $25 or $50 – families that are making the sacrifice to support somebody who they believe will support them and I’m excited about that.

No one is going to work harder than I am. I don’t feel entitled. I don’t feel like I deserve to be at a certain place. I’m going to work hard and earn the support of voters. I ask that people look at my record and the things that I have tried to do to make our community a better place to live, for everyone who has chosen our county as their home.

I am running on my record of commitment and dedication, and having the ability to stand up and admit when things haven’t gone so well. If you remember, during some of the toughest times at OPD, I didn’t push somebody else to be the fall guy, it was my face that you saw in front of the cameras saying, “mess up, fess up, we are going to do it better the next time,” or saying “we did what we were supposed to do” regardless of whether it was a popular thing or not. I’m not trying to be the most popular mayor; I want to be the most effective and accountable mayor. I’m asking voters in Orange County to join me in this election. They will not be disappointed.

WONO: Thank you, Candidate Demings.

Val Demings: Thank you, too.


Valdez B. Demings was born in Jacksonville, Florida to James and Elouise Butler and is the youngest of seven children. She attended Duval County Public Schools and is a graduate of Wolfson High School. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology from Florida State University and her Master of Arts degree in Public Administration from Webster University. Chief Demings is also a graduate of the 226th session of the FBI National Academy as well as the FBI National Executive Institute.

After working as a Social Worker in Foster Care, Val moved to Orlando in 1983 to attend the Police Academy. She was elected Class President and later received the Board of Trustees Award for overall excellence. Val had many assignments throughout her career, including assignments in the West Patrol Division, the Criminal Investigation Division, Crime Prevention, Explorer and Cadet Unit, Public Information Office, Internal Affairs, and as Commander of the Airport Division. She also served as the Commander of Special Operations where she managed special events, dignitary protection, traffic enforcement, traffic homicide, marine patrol, the K-9 and Vehicles for Hire units, and the Reserve and Auxiliary units. In addition to her regular job assignments, Val served 12 years on the Crisis Negotiation Team, Commander of the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team, and Executive Vice President of the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police.

In 2007, Demings was selected to serve as Chief for the Orlando Police Department – the first woman to ever hold that position. Upon taking office, she launched an all-out war against crime. Her tenure was marked by a dramatic forty percent reduction in violent crime, including robberies, shootings and murders.

After twenty-seven years at the Orlando Police Department, including three and a half years as the department’s top cop, Demings decided to retire from the force but continues her commitment to public service.

Chief Demings stays involved in her community through numerous social service activities, which include the following:
  • Saint Mark A.M.E. Church,  Trustee; and Chairperson of the Annual Church Women’s Conference;
  • President of the Women’s Missionary Society; (Chief Demings has participated in overseas mission trips to Peru and Haiti.)
  • Chairperson of the Committee on Global Housing and Homelessness;
  • Member of the Florida Bar Citizens Advisory Committee; Federal Judicial Nominating Commission for the Middle District of Florida; The Orlando Chapter of the Links, Incorporated; Chosen as one of Orlando’s 50 Most Powerful People; Member of Delta Sigma Theta Public Service Sorority, Inc., Heart of Florida United Way, Board of Directors; YMCA Achievers Program, Valencia Community College, Black Advisory Board Member; United Negro College Fund, Advisory Board Member; Guardian Care Nursing and Rehabilitative Center, Board of Directors, as well as numerous other affiliations.

Chief Demings is married to Jerry L. Demings, Sheriff of Orange County and former Orlando Police Chief. They have three sons: Austin, Antoine, and Antonio.


To reach the campaign:
Follow @ValDemings on twitter
Val Demings for Mayor of Orange County
P. O. Box 536926
Orlando FL 32853


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