Jerry Demings-The Orlando Times
Jerry Demings, Making History Again
BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
ORANGE COUNTY - When one reads their history, they’re amazed to find the feats achieved by the figures they read about. Some close the book to resume reading at a later time, whereas many keep the book open to emulate, setting about the task of achieving their own history.
For a lawman turned legislator, the third time is most certain the charm. Twenty years ago, he made history as the first Black police chief of the City of Orlando. Ten years after that, he walked the pages of history once more in his election as the first Black Sheriff of Orange County and this year, has again become a historical centerpiece by becoming the first elected Black Mayor of Orange County, FL.
Jerry Demings, an Orlando native, has written history, lived history, enforced the law and has become principal legislator of Orange County. Demings walked to victory with sixty-two percent of the vote.
It was Demings’ reverence for the history of the first African-American deputies in Orange County that drove him to create and maintain that historic line of African-Americans making a difference in law enforcement.
He entered law enforcement as a street police officer, working his way through the ranks of police.
Jerry Demings has proven hard work not only pays off, it drives the path of where you wish to take yourself.
With thirty-seven years in law enforcement, Jerry Demings’ reputation as a solid lawman and reputable manager convinced voters to elect the veteran law enforcement official as the County’s fifty mayor on Tuesday, Aug.28.
“We have won this race! We have won this race!” Demings said during his victory speech. “The son of a maid and taxicab driver has been elected.”
He said his champion campaign is proof, “speaks volumes just how far this community has come.”
“I hope that this inspires every boy or girl that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can be whatever you dream to be.”
Though the mayoral race was non-partisan, Demings, a Democrat, was elected, ending two decades of Republican county hegemony.
Prior to his election as Mayor, Demings continued to work as Sheriff, submitting a memo proposing that county commissioners approve a funding request to hire seventy-five school resource officers for the 2018-2019 school year, in wake of last school year’s Parkland shooting.
At least one school deputy is guaranteed at each of the one-hundred and seventeen schools under Demings’ county jurisdiction, in accordance with the new state law.
An Orlando native, he was born the youngest child of Freddie and Josephine Demings.
The young Demings graduated Jones High School and matriculated to Florida State University, where he earned a Bachelors’ Degree in Finance. Demings worked as an accountant before he recalls an older police officer he knew challenged him to want more.
“He asked me had I given any thought to becoming a police officer.” Demings said.
After some thought, he changed from an accountant in an office, to a police officer on the street. “Through my career change, I fell in love with the people in my hometown.” Demings said.
Demings graduated from the 194th session of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Academy and studied at Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“For a poor boy from Washington Shores, we sure shattered the glass ceiling.” He said.
As a young officer patrolling Orlando, Demings rescued individuals from burning cars and negotiated for those captive in hostage situations. “The ability to be in life saving situations were proud moments of my career.”
Demings was appointed Orlando’s first Black police chief in 1998 by then Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood, serving the City until 2002. During his tenure, crime dropped within the Orlando community, particularly violent, fatal crimes.
Demings and wife Val have three sons, all of which are graduates of Florida A&M University.
Prior to becoming Sheriff, then Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty appointed him as the Director of Public Safety for Orange County in October 2002.Sheriff Demings was appointed to the FEMA National Advisory Council in July 2014 and served through August 2018.
Today, when a deputy answers a call, they do so with new computers, body worn cameras and with GPS devices to improve response times, an effort championed by Demings.
Demings made history again in July 2016, when he was unanimously elected by the Florida sheriffs as the President of the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA), becoming the first African-American Sheriff to lead the organization in 123 years.
He volunteers at his ministry and is active with Omega Psi Phi, Sigma Pi Phi and Alpha Phi Omega Fraternities. “I love working with community-based organizations that are committed to making the world a better place for present and future generations,” said Demings.
“I’m proud my parents lived long enough to see the fruits of their labor.” Demings said of his parents.
"My top four priorities as Mayor will be on addressing the affordable housing crisis, developing long-term solutions to our regional transportation issues, economic development and enhancing public safety.” he said during his victory speech.
Demings at current is assembling a “transition team of volunteer citizens to develop a plan of action that establishes an organizational structure for my administration in meeting current and future needs of Orange County.”
“This is my home and the home of my children and grandchildren. I want to lead Orange County to be the best community in the United States to live.”
Demings will be sworn in as Mayor on Dec.4.