Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Calculations: Orange County's string of GOP mayors may be coming to an end

The last three Orange County mayors were Republicans. That may be about to change.

Former Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, a Democrat, is getting a hand from central Florida’s typically Republican-leaning business community in his bid for county mayor.

Some of Demings’ biggest donors include Walt Disney World, Full Sail University, Rosen Hotels & Resorts, executives from Universal Orlando and the Orlando Magic and prominent GOP lobbyists such as former state lawmakers Dean Cannon and Chris Dorworth.

Part of the donors’ support reflects a desire to back the likely winner: Demings, a former Orlando police chief who is married to U.S. Rep. Val Demings (D-Orlando), is a heavy favorite.

Another factor is that Demings’ run has essentially precluded campaigns from some of Orlando’s other top Democrats

particularly Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh and tax collector Scott Randolph, both of whom have clashed with the business community. Singh and Randolph considered running for mayor but opted not to risk their current positions, both of which pay six-figure salaries.

Orlando’s business community appears to have concluded that it is better to embrace a relatively friendly Democrat to avoid a potentially more hostile contender such as Singh or Randolph.

Each of the last three mayors of Orange County

Mel Martinez, Rich Crotty and Teresa Jacobs, who faces term limits this year

are Republicans. But the county has been turning bluer in recent years; Hillary Clinton won 60% of the vote in the county in 2016.

Demings’ success with GOPleaning donors also has made it harder for Republican candidates, who would likely need a sizable financial advantage to offset Democrats’ demographic advantages.

The only two people standing between Demings and the mayor’s post now are Rob Panepinto, a Republican businessman making his first run for office, and Pete Clarke, a Republican county commissioner who has struggled to raise money.

More business news and briefs for Central Florida:


  • Paul Noland, a longtime theme-park industry veteran, was chosen to succeed Steve Brown as president and CEO of Accesso, a Lake Marybased technology company serving the attractions industry. Noland had most recently been president and CEO of the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions.
  • The Kessler Collection, an Orlando operator of boutique hotels, promoted John Luckett to chief operations officer. Luckett had been general manager of the company’s Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville in North Carolina.



  • SpaceX successfully launched the latest iteration of its Falcon 9 rocket, an extra- durable version that the company hopes to eventually be able to launch up to twice a day. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin says it is on schedule to launch its orbital New Glen rocket by the end of 2020.


  • The city was one of six in the U.S. chosen to host a Gran Fondo cycling race, a competitive and recreational event that will include 30-, 50- and 75-mile bicycle races.


  • Walt Disney World opened Toy Story Land in its Disney Hollywood Studios theme park. A lawsuit brought by IT workers laid off by Disney after being forced to train replacements brought in on H-1B visas was dismissed. Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger told analysts that it is an “inevitability” that Disney will build more overseas theme parks.


  • County commissioners voted to ban retail sales of dogs and cats, just a few months after Seminole County imposed a similar prohibition.


  • Harris Corp. began offering four-week parental leave to all of its 17,000 employees, regardless of gender.


  • EPIC Theatres opened a six-screen movie theater, the first in the city.


  • Universal Orlando opened a Fast & Furiousthemed ride in its Universal Studios Florida theme park.
  • Nemours Children’s Hospital will begin a residency program at its Lake Nona hospital.
  • The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, one of the biggest attractions along the city’s International Drive tourist corridor, was renamed ICON Orlando.
  • Delta Air Lines and Aeromexico began weekly summer flights between Orlando and Monterrey, Mexico.
  • UCF opened an incubator for life-sciences startups in Lake Nona.
  • Emeril’s Orlando, one of the flagship restaurants at Universal Orlando’s City- Walk, will close. The restaurant employs 108.
  • Darden Restaurants, parent company of Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and other chains, will pay $2.85 million to settle an age-discrimination lawsuit.
  • The Holocaust Memorial and Resource Education Center, currently in a suburban facility in Maitland, will relocate to a $24-million, 40,000-sq.-ft. facility downtown that will be called the Holocaust Museum for Hope & Humanity.
  • Orlando International Airport began using facial-recognition security screening technology.


  • County hotel-tax collections rose 11% to $145.6 million through the first six months of the fiscal year.
  • County commissioners voted to reinstate three-day waiting periods for guns sold at gun shows and flea markets.
  • SeaWorld Entertainment will pay $11.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in which a judge ruled that the company had breached the contracts of tens of thousands of annual passholders by continuing to charge them monthly payments beyond the terms of their agreements.
  • SeaWorld opened a new water slide in its Aquatica water park and said it will open a Sesame Street-themed land at Sea- World Orlando next year.
  • The county voted to spend $2 million in hotel taxes to sweeten a bid for the 2022 Special Olympics and $1 million to help lure another Wrestlemania in 2023 or 2025.


  • A Norwegian Cruise Line ship embarked on the first sailing from Port Canaveral to Cuba.


  • Anuvia Plant Nutrients struck a deal with an agricultural supplier in Mauritius to begin selling its products in Africa.

INNOVATION: A Digital Boost

When Kingdom Strollers, an Orlando company that rents cribs and strollers to theme park visitors, hired Concepta, an Orlando web and mobile app developer, the results were impressive. Kingdom Strollers had Concepta digitize its business with a suite of technologies that included inventory tracking, online booking, delivery updates and travel agent referral tracking. The technology replaced manual systems that the owners had been using since they started the company in 2010, such as making all updates to an order over the phone and logging them into a single spreadsheet. Since digitizing, Kingdom Strollers, which rents primarily to Disney tourists, says revenue has grown more than 40%, and the company has moved from a 6,700-sq.-ft. rented office to a 16,000-sq.-ft. warehouse it bought.


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