Orange County mayor warns pandemic, protests mixed with RNC could be recipe for ‘failure’

Mayor Jerry Demings says any large political event could put further strain on already over burdened community

Orange County mayor provides coronavirus update
Orange County mayor provides coronavirus update

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – After President Trump pulled the Republican National Convention from North Carolina, Orlando has been floated by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a possible alternative location.

While Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said he hasn’t been approached about hosting the RNC in the Orlando area, on Friday he expressed concerns about the county hosting any kind of large political gathering, regardless of party affiliation.

On Friday when asked about whether he thinks the RNC would be a welcome event to boost Central Florida’s tourism industry, which has taken a devastating hit due to coronavirus closures, Demings was cautious in his response.

“I will try to be as clear as I can here. I love my community. First, I’ll start there,” Demings said, pausing. “And my job as mayor is to make decisions in the best interests of all of the Orange County residents.”

Th mayor said the current circumstances of the country -- the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and nation unrest over the death of George Floyd, killed in police custody last month-- have put a strain on many people, including first responders who would likely be needed to help with such an event.

“Right now, in America, America’s got a problem with perception in terms of justice, inequality, etc. and no matter which political party that you are a member of, I believe that any community that hosts a political party’s convention, in the environment with the conditions that we have now, are going to be susceptible to mass demonstrations,” Demings said. “I don’t want that for our community.”

Since Sunday, demonstrations have drawn thousands to downtown Orlando to protest the death of Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Almost every night of protests has ended with tear gas deployed on protesters and body camera video shows Orlando police officers are being subject to rocks and insults hurled at them.

Due to the coronavirus, Florida was under a stay-at-home order for more than a month causing businesses to close across the state. Nearly two million people have filed for unemployment in Florida since March. More than 2,600 Floridians have died from the virus in just over three months.

“All of our anxieties are at a heightened level. All of our frustrations are at a heightened level because people are out of work. People are underemployed. People have insufficient access to food,” Demings said.

The result of the pandemic and the protests has put a strain on health care workers and first responders, the mayor said.

“Law enforcement and those other frontline workers have been working tirelessly for days and a certain amount of fatigue will set in,” Demings said. “And here we find ourselves on top of a pandemic, we now have demonstrations, daily, day after day, after day, where our first responders are being taxed to deal with the present age that we live in.”

The mayor warned to infuse "politics into the equation with a political convention. I think is an ingredient for failure.”

No official statement from the Republican Party has been given on where the convention will be held.

The RNC was scheduled to take place in North Carolina in late August until President Donald Trump announced that he would need to find a new location since the governor couldn’t promise a full convention arena with no facial coverings and no social distancing, according to the Associated Press.

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