Jerry Demings: We can win outright in August primary

Outgoing sheriff says he is 'up to the task' to be Orange County mayor

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla – After nearly 40 years in law enforcement, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said he expects to succeed outgoing Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and, if his polling is right, win the Aug. 28 primary with at least 80 percent of the vote and eliminate the need for a general election in November.

“We can win and we can win outright in August," a confident Demings said. “And that’s what I intend to do.”

In an exclusive interview with News 6, Demings said polling by his campaign shows a wide margin between him and his closest rivals, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke and Winter Park businessman Rob Panepinto.

[READ: Sheriff Jerry Demings to focus on public safety, growth in run for mayor

“It’s a calculated risk (leaving the Sheriff’s Office)," Demings said. “I have done my own polling and the polling tells me I should be able to win this race in August.”

Qualifying for the mayor’s race starts Monday and continues through Friday, June 22.

Orange County director of elections Cindy Clark said for a candidate to win and avoid a general election, he or she must take 50 percent plus one vote of the total voter turnout.

Last Thursday, Demings submitted his formal resignation to the Orange County clerk of the court, setting the stage for a special election for his job while turning the page on a new election to continue his legacy in public service.

“This will be the sixth time I am on a countywide ballot," he said. “I feel good about it because I have fulfilled my promise to the people of Orange County.”

[READ: Candidates for Orange County mayor debate hot topics

Demings, who has served as Orlando police chief, deputy county administrator and Orange County sheriff, is one of six candidates seeking the county mayor’s seat. Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, who submitted his resignation June 8 to pursue the mayor’s seat, ran and won as District 3 commissioner in the past two elections in 2012 and 2016.

“There’s only one poll that matters," Clarke said. “That’s the poll taken by the voters in the Aug. 28 primary.”

Joel Hawksley, Clarke’s campaign consultant, said his candidate is building grassroots momentum and does not believe the numbers Demings is pitching.

“Polls can be manipulated,” Hawksley said. “People like Pete and what he’s accomplished.”

“I think I’m the person to do it,” Clarke said. “We’re working very, very hard to get those votes.”

Clarke said his priorities, “out of the block," will be to bring affordable housing to the county continuing the effort started by outgoing Mayor Teresa Jacobs, and to review policies and procedures to make it easier for businesses to work with Orange County.

Rob Panepinto, the 51-year-old president of Florentine Strategies, a consulting and capital investment firm, has built up a cash war chest but has never been tested in an election.  

Others who have filed for mayor include Jose Datil Colom, who was ordered to serve probation in a public corruption case and Robert E. Melanson, best known for being convicted of trespassing on the roof of pop singer Rihanna’s Los Angeles mansion.

Melanson ran against Clarke for the commissioner’s seat and came in third.

Demings said his role as a chief executive over the past 20 years, first as chief of the Orlando Police Department and then Orange County sheriff, gives him the edge over the other candidates.

“In terms of the scope of the job I’m up to the task but why am I running for mayor? Because I think the mayor has a broader influence over the future development of this community, I believe we can have an impact on this community that can last a lifetime,” Demings said.

Qualifying runs June 18-22. Primary election Day is Aug. 28. This is a nonpartisan election.

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