Val Demings enters Orange County mayor’s race with an eye on equality

By : Susan Clary
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Orlando -The day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act in June in an historic decision that meant marriage was no longer defined as the union of a man and a woman, thousands of people celebrated at Lake Eola.

Former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings took the stage and spoke about her 25-year marriage to Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

“I cannot imagine what it would have been like if someone had denied us the opportunity 25 years ago just because we were who we were,” Demings said. “Especially a government that is supposed to provide protection under the law and level the playing field.”

Her three-minute speech made clear that she was not finished with public service. Ending months of speculation, Demings, a Democrat, announced on Jan. 9 that she would challenge Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, a Republican, in the fall.

“Orange County is my home, I raised my family here, I worked in the community 27 years as a police officer,” Demings told Watermark. “I care about this community.”

Demings supported the creation of the domestic partner registry and wants to see marriage equality. She has spoken out against hate crimes and pushed anti-bullying policies.

“One should not be a reluctant participant,” Demings said. “We should continue to press for equality in our nation and we ought to lead the effort at the local level. That’s how you really touch people’s lives.”

This is not Demings’ first run for office. In 2012, she challenged Congressman Dan Webster in the District 10 race to represent Central Florida in Washington D.C. She lost by 3% of the vote.

The County Mayor’s race promises to be a tough and costly battle. Jacobs won her first term in 2010, defeating her closest opponent by a whopping 35 points. Jacobs remains a popular figure, despite controversy. She has already raised nearly $500,000 for her re-election campaign.

Voter turnout will be another hurdle for Demings. Democrats typically do not fare well in years without a Presidential race on the ballot, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans 295,000 to 202,000 in Orange County, with 157,000 registered as no party affiliation.

“I’ve had to work hard for everything I’ve gotten and I plan to work hard for this,” said Demings, who expects to tap the deep pockets of some of her wealthy supporters to help her with a multifaceted campaign that will include grassroots efforts with paid media.

Unlike many candidates, who reach out to the LGBT community only when they need support during an election, Demings points out that she has been shoulder-to-shoulder working for equal rights with the gay community.

“We will not stop until every couple has the opportunity to live their life out loud,”  Demings said. “We are not going anywhere and we are going to remind everybody of the words that framed our nation. We aren’t going anywhere until all 50 states, all 50 states, recognize marriage equality”

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