When it came to talking about how far he’d come, the son of a taxi driver from the hardscrabble Orlando neighborhood Washington Shores, to Orange County’s most powerful office, newly sworn-in Mayor Jerry Demings finally cracked for a moment Tuesday.
Demings, who just two hours earlier ended a 10-year tenure as Orange County sheriff and a 38-year career in law enforcement that had put him on the front lines for some of the brightest and darkest days in Orlando’s history, found himself speechless as introduced his father. It showed a brief moment of tenderness for the next mayor who no longer is a cop, moments after he spoke of dedicating his campaign to his mother Josephine Demings, who died in August 2017 at 95.
“My 96-year-old father [Freddie Demings] is here with me. It is a blessing for him for him to have lived long enough to witness,” Demings said, before breaking down.
Then he struggled through, with halting, emotional speech, “As the son of a taxi driver and maid, I hope, I hope that my rise will inspire others to dream big and to believe that they too can achieve their desires of their heart.”
This came in front of an estimated crowd of 1,300 during swearing-in ceremonies Tuesday for Demings and four county commissioners, Christine Moore, Mayra Uribe, Maribel Gomez Cordero, and Victoria Siplin, who likely will turn Orange County in a new direction after 20 years of Republican control.
Demings and the commissioners each took turns recommitting to their campaign pledges and focusing their goals. For Demings, that was a pledge for a non-partisan push for the future.
“I promise to put people the people over politics, and in the words of Walt Disney, our goal is to make Orange County the experimental prototype community of tomorrow,” he said. “We will do so through innovation, collaboration, and inclusiveness, that allows our region to remain competitive in a global market space.”
Demings listed the first four top priorities, which were not that different from what the individual commissioners addressed, as they are obvious challenges for Orange County:
– Expanding affordable housing.
– Improving regional transportation, including making funding mass transit a priority.
– Pursuing economic development that provides higher wages.
– Enhancing public safety.
Demings offered few new details during his 16-minute speech, other than confirming that he will pursue four new positions recommended by his transition team, to hire a chief technology officer, chief sustainability officer, and a chief commercial and opportunity officer for his top staff.
In a press conference afterwards, he acknowledged his goal to invest more Orange County money in his programs. Unlike his predecessor Teresa Jacobs, who came to power in 2008 as the Great Recession was collapsing Orange County’s economy and who spent most of her eight-year tenure pursuing conservative fiscal policies, Demings is inheriting a booming economy and flush county revenues.
“I am inheriting a county with very, very sound fiscal policies. And because of that we can take measured risks, I believe we are able to take Orange County to the next level. In order to go to that next level it is going to require a financial investment for all of the citizens of Orange County to receive a return on that investment,” Demings said.