ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando Congresswoman Val Demings is in line for a potential promotion.
The Democratic representative is on a short list of women being vetted for consideration as Joe Biden’s vice president running mate. Biden remains committed to making his pick public in “early August” ahead of the planned virtual Democratic National Convention.
In Congress, Demings has often highlighted her law enforcement career, including four years as Orlando police chief.
“We all know the majority of police officers do the job well every day, but today is about those who don’t,” Demings said on June 25 while speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives in favor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. “Good police officers want us to get there, they need us to help them improve the profession that they love.”
The November election comes at a point where the nation is facing not only a surging pandemic, but political divisions and racial and social unrest.
Political observers point out Demings’ experience and record in law enforcement could provide Biden a unique perspective on race and policing, but the experience could also hinder Demings.
“I think on one hand, on the positive side, where the nation is right now, looking at some significant reforms for police departments across the country, you could argue Val Demings would be as qualified, if not more qualified, as almost anyone to help with that effort, even lead the effort mainly because she was a cop,” said Dr. Aubrey Jewett, associate political science professor at University of Central Florida.
“Having said that, I should point out, her time in office was not always perfect, as no one's is, and critics do point to a number of excess uses of force by the Orlando Police Department when she was in office,” Jewett added.
Demings as Orlando Police Chief
Demings rose through the ranks at Orlando Police Department for 27 years, including 4 years as chief. Demings was the first woman to hold the job.
“One thing she has that she offers is trust,” said Pastor Derrick McRae of Experience Christian Center in Orlando.
Pastor McRae said Demings has run the gauntlet to now lead the nation’s conversation and progress on key issues including race and policing.
“…Understanding of whole issue evolving around Black and the blue, and I think we have to make sure that whomever gets in is able to put forward a real focus, which means it has to be a heartbeat effort,” McRae said.
As chief, Demings pushed for reforms and oversaw a crime rate that dropped 43 percent. However, Demings also oversaw a period at OPD that includes more than $3 million paid out to settle dozens of excessive force lawsuits.
As chief, Demings was also censured in 2009 for not properly protecting department-issued property. In February 2009, Demings reported a duffel bag containing her service weapon, a Sig Sauer P226R, was stolen from her department SUV while parked at her home.
Demings' record is one that voters like longtime Orlando community activist Lawanna Gelzer say they can’t get past.
“I don’t think she’s the right person and right choice to bring the country together,” said Gelzer, who is president of Central Florida chapter of National Action Network. “I see Val as part of the establishment that’s not willing to make the change, giving me rhetoric and 'train officers,' no we need to make sure we feel safe in America.”
Demings defended her agency in a 2008 op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel, opening with “…looking for a negative story in a police department is like looking for a prayer at church.”
“I do not personally know any people in law enforcement who claim to be perfect, and, if we wanted to portray ourselves as such, there would always be those who remind us that we are only human,” Demings wrote in 2008. “Yes, we are only human, trying to do a job in challenging times that sometimes appears to require superhuman strength.
"However, 98 claims of excessive force out of more than 2,000,000 encounters with the public would lead a reasonable person to conclude that Orlando police officers are doing OK, for the most part, in the performance of their duties.”
“I think her track record of trust and doing what she says gives comfort to the community,” Pastor McRae said. “I also think now that she’s been removed (from OPD), she can see clearer now. Sometimes you can’t see the force because you’re walking in it, but moments you get to escape and fly and see back and see things you couldn’t normally see.”
Leaning on the Vice President
In a series of interviews this summer, Demings further positioned herself, saying her experience uniquely qualifies her for the vice president role.
If elected, many within the Democratic Party will look to Biden to lean heavily on his vice president to play a role in addressing the many issues facing the nation.
“I think the Biden campaign is looking at two things; first and foremost, probably someone who can help them win, and secondly is going to be somebody who can be president,” Dr. Jewett said.
In 2017, Donald Trump was the oldest person to assume the presidency, at 70 years old. If elected, Joe Biden, 77, would pass that mark set by Trump, who is now 74 years old.
“It’ll be important to keep that vice president in the loop, keep them close and informed and involved in everything going on, and where possible give them some specific jobs to do,” Dr. Jewett said.
Joe Biden has repeatedly told reporters he intends to announce his pick for vice president in “early August”. Other candidates reportedly being vetted for the job include:
- Stacey Abrams, Former Georgia state representative and former Georgia gubernatorial nominee
- Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin
- Rep. Karen Bass of California
- Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
- Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois
- Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico
- Sen. Kamala Harris of California
- Susan Rice: Former, U.S. ambassador to United Nations and former national security advisor
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
- Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan