ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - The 2018 Orange County mayoral candidates, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and business leader and nonprofit consultant Rob Panepinto met for a debate on Wednesday. The candidates all seek to succeed Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who is leaving due to term limits.
The live, televised event was moderated by Fox 35 News Anchor Ryan Elijah, Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz and Executive Director of the Downtown Development Board/Community Redevelopment Agency Thomas Chatmon.
All three candidates shared their backgrounds, setting up what experience they would bring to the job and the different styles in which they would govern. Clarke and Demings highlighted their decades in the public sector, while Panepinto emphasized his business background and his position as a fiscal conservative.
"I have spent my life here building jobs, creating businesses and serving this community," Panepinto said. "I'm the only person on this stage to have created jobs."
Clarke replied saying he had helped to create jobs through innovative government programs.
"I've been in the community for over 30 years. I've addressed housing issues, homeless issues," said Clarke as he glanced across the stage at Panepinto. "With all due respect sir, I've never see you there, but we'll discuss that later."
"He's not the only one on this stage that's ever worked in the private sector. I started my career in the private sector," Demings said later in the debate about Panepinto. "I don't want him [Panepinto] to minimize eveyone's total experience to make himself look good in this process."
The three mostly agreed that issues such as improved transportation, tackling homelessness, and school safety should be priorities.
"I cannot imagine going to school and having to worry about getting hurt," said Clarke. "Whoever the sheriff is, we're going to make sure they have the resources," said Clarke.
"I'm one hundred percent committed to working with our parents, our school teachers, our school board to make certain we do have law enforcement presence on all of those school campuses," said Demings, who has served as Orange County's top law officer since 2008.
Panepinto said law enforcement, the school system and county government had to work together to be effective.
"An issue like this is handled comprehensively across all three, both through a strategy and budget perspective," he said. "Regardless or whose budget it comes from, that the dollars and the resources are made available to make sure our children are safe."
The three were questioned regarding a mandated $15 minimum wage for the county.
"Why stop at $15? It's a ceiling that's been instated around the country... I want more than 15, I want 25," said Clarke, though he cautioned that there are unintended consequences with raising the minimum wage that should be considered.
"Making it mandatory to have at minimum, a $15 an hour wage, is something that would be adverse to small business in the community," Demings said, but he added, "what I would do as mayor is make certain my employees get raises, I would work with the unions in this community to make certain we have fair wages... we will encourage the business community to develop pathways to the middle class for their employees."
"I think our wages is the most critical issue, and it connects to every other challenge we have in this community. I do not think that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is the solution," said Panepinto, who touted diversifying the local economy instead. "People are unfortunately stuck in the jobs they are in, because there are no other jobs available to them here. I want to make sure that there are other career opportunities here for people to move up."
On running a $4.2 billion government with 7,500 employees, Clarke said he had "hands-on experience doing that for 17 years," adding "you can’t get that experience in the private sector.”
“The Orange County mayor is a person who really has to deal with emergencies and [crises],” Demings said. “I’ve been [a] county administrator, I understand all the mechanics and operations.”
"All of the issues I've been involved with all interact with county government, but I've done it from the outside," Panepinto said. "I have the perfect experience, because I know how it works."
The vote will be Aug. 28. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff on Nov. 6.
WATCH THE DEBATE BELOW: