Four years after her initial congressional bid, former Orlando Chief of Police, Val Demings, is running to represent Florida’s recently redrawn 10th Congressional district. “I want to see an America that wraps its arms around its people, regardless of their ethnicity and their income, or their zip code,” Demings told Politic365 during an exclusive interview.
When Demings first sought to join Congress, her district was a Republican dominated mash up of Polk, Lake, and Orange counties. Today, the district encapsulates Orange County and most of Orlando, where Demings worked in law enforcement for 27 years. After a career in social work, where Demings concentrated her efforts on children and families who needed services and found themselves “victims of a system that failed them,” she “had the honor of working [her] way up through the ranks to become the first woman chief of police.”
A native daughter of Jacksonville, Florida, Demings, the youngest of seven children, credits her success to the lessons she learned sharing a two bedroom wood frame house with her siblings and mother, who was a maid, and father, who was a janitor. Despite “being poor, black, and female – which the world will tell you can be obstacles – I remember my Mom, who didn’t graduate from high school, always said that ‘you can make it in this country if you’re willing to work hard.’”
And work hard she did.
Both as a law enforcement officer and as a social worker, Demings developed an ethos that said people deserve an opportunity to succeed, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how much money they have. It’s that sensibility and sensitivity that she hopes to bring to Congress.
Ever mindful of the challenges we face in this nation regarding ultra-partisanship and socio-economic divides, Demings recalled President John F. Kennedy who said, “we will send a man to the moon, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.” She is a fervent believer that “America deals with tough things, and tough problems, and we have tough issues – some man made, some not – but we are problem solvers. We get it done.”
That can-do attitude has become a hallmark for Demings, who radiates compassion and exudes an air of pragmatism. “I chose to be a social worker because I wanted to make things better for people in my community,” she said. “That was a tough job – large caseload, too little resources, but I really wanted to make things better for people who couldn’t do it for themselves….I was appointed [police] chief at a time when crime was high…but instead of focusing on the crisis, I focused on the opportunity, because that’s what I think tough times provide us with – the greatest opportunity to get things done.”
At the top of her to-do list are advancing conversations about job creation, improved and accessible education and healthcare, fair and affordable housing, creating a living wage, ensuring public safety and promoting the public trust in government and the people elected to represent their interests. “I want to put programs in place and work with people on both sides of the aisle to just get it done,” she said.
“I want an America that is safe, not just from a national security standpoint, but in our neighborhoods. I want an America that has a public education system that prepares our children to be job ready or college ready. I want to see an America that values working families, and makes sure they have an income that allows them to live the American Dream, and an America that takes care of its seniors and treats them with dignity and respect.”
The road ahead may be filled with challenges, but Demings is up to the task of creating a better future for this nation and all its inhabitants. “People are risking their lives to come to this country because they believe America takes care of their own,” she said.
If elected to Congress, Deming vows to do everything in her power to make good on America’s promise.