Candidates for Orange County mayor debate hot topics

Primary to be held Aug. 28

ORLANDO, Fla. – The three candidates running for Orange County mayor squared off Friday in a debate.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce hosted the one-hour meeting, where Commissioner Pete Clarke, Sheriff Jerry Demings and businessman Rob Panepinto fielded more than a dozen questions.

One of the first key issues was the affordable housing crisis, and each candidate provided his perspective.

"We need to identify properties that are available for affordable housing," Clarke said.

In a response, Demings said the county should look at homelessness and people who are underemployed in the community, while Panepinto said he would look into a local fund through a public-private partnership.

The county's budget, transportation issues and public safety were some of the major topics covered in the debate.

There were also several questions about issues affecting the Hispanic community, including the county's role in helping evacuees from Puerto Rico.

"We have to be active at the federal level (and) the state level, because that's where most of the dollars are going to have to come from," Demings said.

Both Panepinto and Clarke agreed with the remarks while saying they would offer their own approach to help evacuees.

At the end of Friday's debate, each candidate spoke about what unique experience he would bring to the position.

Demings spoke about his roots in the community, along with more than 30 years of public service, and Clarke highlighted his knowledge of Orange County government as an acting commissioner.

Panepinto said he would bring his knowledge of building businesses and creating jobs to help boost the economy.

"I can really bring to the table an understanding of how government, the business sector and the nonprofit sector can work together," Panepinto said.

Orange County residents will be able to cast their vote for mayor during the primary election, which is August 28.

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