Media & Interviews

Orlando Sentinel (July 31, 2022)

 

Mayor Demings challengers have an opening "...Foremost among them: Kelly Semrad, who's emerged as a formidable voice for protecting Orange County's natural resources & resisting overdevelopment. Through her campaign, she's shown that she's no one-issue candidate - she's well-versed on the issues facing  Orange County, and needles Demings on his lack of response to critics." She says that he repeatedly says it is out of his hands. It's not out of his hands," She told Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board.  

She's right, and Demings should listen. In fact, if he wins re-election he might consider playing on Semrad's commendable sense of civic responsibility, and enlist her as his in-house antagonist-in-chief. 

The other two challengers...don't come close to Semrad's level of preparation and focus. But they sound many of the same warningss that she does. Demings should listen to them."

Click Picture (Above)

 

Click Picture (Above)

 

Orlando Sentinel (August 3, 2022)

 

"With three challengers questioning his first-term decisions and leadership, incumbent Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings aims to win four more years in office while also promoting his proposed sales-tax increase for transportation and trying to solve a housing crisis.

All three challengers — tech entrepreneur Chris Messina, retired Army Col. Anthony Sabb and University of Central Florida professor Kelly Semrad — derided the proposed penny-per-dollar increase to the sales tax, which requires voter approval in November.

“Now is not the time you go to your people and talk about raising their taxes, period,” Semrad said during a candidate forum hosted by the Orlando Sentinel editorial board.

Each also found fault with Demings’ direction during the pandemic, specifically his vaccination mandates for county employees.

"...The mayoral race is nonpartisan, which means the candidates won’t be identified on the Aug. 23 ballot by party affiliation.  Demings, 63, and Semrad, 45, are registered Democrats; Messina, 64, and Sabb, 61, are Republicans."

"...Campaign finance records show Demings paid $257,000 last month to Washington-based Resonance Campaigns LLC, whose portfolio includes work on the Biden for President campaign in 2020, handling direct mail in Georgia and other battleground states. Its website boasts of helping “send Democrats back to the White House and Donald Trump back to Mar-a-Lago.”

Messina has raised about $45,000, including loans from himself totaling about $10,000.

Sabb’s campaign shows donations totaling about $26,000, more than half in loans from himself.

Semrad, who said she will not accept donations from developers, has raised about $24,000 for her campaign, including about $10,000 in loans from herself. Her contributors include Chuck O’Neal of Speak Up Wekiva and Valerie Anderson of the Friends of Split Oak Forest. She also received $500 from District 5 Commissioner Emily Bonilla, who has clashed with Demings in public meetings.

 

The challengers offered conflicting opinions of an ordinance proposed by Bonilla to cap rent increases at 5% for a year for apartments located in buildings with four or more units. Semrad supports the measure as temporary relief for tenants, while Sabb and Messina oppose it."

Split Oak Forest

Semrad said she decided to run for mayor partly because of Demings’ vote in favor of the Central Florida Expressway Authority’s plan to extend a segment of the Osceola Parkway toll road through Split Oak Forest, a 1,689-acre, publicly owned conservation property.

“People deserve to have that forest left in perpetuity because that is what was promised to them,” she said. Sabb and Messina also disagreed with Demings’ vote, saying it shook local trust in government. But Demings stood by his toll-road vote, adding he believes citizens believe in him.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t have the trust of the people in this community,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use of hotel-tax money

"...All three challengers said the county should seek to expand uses of tourist-tax revenues, which Demings has not done. Some Florida communities have opted to use the revenues on community needs for transportation or public safety.

 

The money “should be coming back out to the benefit of the people,” Semrad said.

Revenues generated by the 6% assessment on the cost of a hotel room or other short-term lodging have been used primarily to pay debts to build, expand and maintain the Orange County Convention Center and fund Visit Orlando, the region’s tourism promoter.

Although revenues cratered during the pandemic, the tax brought in $38.6 million in March, the most in a single month ever.

Sabb and Messina also favored expanded flexibility but Messina said he wouldn’t move money around.

“The investment in tourism development is the correct allocation right now,” he said.

Demings said money left over from existing obligations isn’t enough “to do something transformational” with the failing transportation system, which will worsen as the county’s population continues to grow at a rate of 1,500 new residents per week.

“We need a multimodal system,” he said. “The only funding source that is sufficient to do that is the sales tax.”

 

Complete primary election coverage can be found at OrlandoSentinel.com/election

shudak@orlandosentinel.com