Two challengers file to take on Jerry Demings for Orange County Mayor

Tony Sabb and Chris Messina
Retired Army Col. Tony Sabb and businessman Chris Messina are first challengers to file.

Retired Army Col. Anthony “Tony” Sabb and businessman and philanthropist Christopher “Chris” Messina have filed to run for Orange County Mayor, challenging Mayor Jerry Demings’ re-election bid in the August countywide elections.

Both candidates are coming at Demings from conservative positions in the nonpartisan Primary Election contest, which will take place on Aug. 23. In campaign announcements, both candidates criticized Demings’ aggressive COVID-19 pandemic control strategies and policies. Messina also came out swinging against Demings’ transportation sales tax proposal, accusing him of having an “inflationary agenda.”

Messina and Sabb filed to run in the first week of March, making them Demings’ first challengers for this year’s election.

Sabb was a Black Hawk helicopter commander and recipient of the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars and three Air Medals during a 25-year Army career, which included combat duty in Iraq.

“I believe in freedom. Freedom to run our own lives, raise our families without government intervention and prosper with hard work. Our current Mayor illustrated, during this botched handling of the pandemic, he’s not fit for political leadership,” Sabb said in his news release.

Upon his Army retirement in 2008, Sabb began a career as a defense contractor where he supported U.S. allied countries and fighting units abroad. His most recent position was as program director of an Orlando-based communications company.

Sabb has scheduled a campaign kickoff fundraiser for 5 p.m. Tuesday at the ACE Café Orlando in downtown Orlando, the same venue where Demings kicked off his re-election campaign in October.

Messina, a onetime mason’s helper on a construction crew, calls himself a tech entrepreneur and education philanthropist. He founded and runs several medical technology businesses. He and his wife, Julie Messina, co-founded a non-profit foundation to support families with special needs.

“I launched my campaign because Orange County has not been prioritizing residents’ needs properly. We need to raise up families, not taxes. We need to build businesses, not bureaucracies. And we need to choose freedom over fear,” Messina said in his release. “For example, we’re all struggling with inflation. Raising the gas tax and tripling the sales tax shows that career politicians have failed us; it’s time for practical solutions. I promise relief from Mayor Demings’ Inflationary Agenda by stopping new taxes and cutting bureaucracy.”

If no one wins a majority of votes in the Aug. 23 Primary Election, the top two finishers would face off in the November General Election.

Demings, who was Orange County Sheriff, won the Mayor’s Office in the August 2018 Primary Election. He took a landslide majority — 62% — against two high-profile candidates, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke and businessman Rob Panepinto, who was president of the board of Orlando’s regional chamber of commerce, Orlando Inc.

Demings began his term focusing on expanding affordable housing and laying the groundwork for a major transportation infrastructure upgrade fueled by a proposed sales tax increase.

The coronavirus crisis derailed the latter, and for much of two years the Orange County Mayor was among the state’s highest profile foils to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ policies downplaying the coronavirus crisis. Demings pursued aggressive public health responses and expressed empathy for those suffering from the virus. Now Demings has turned back to the transportation sales tax proposal, pushing it toward the November General Election ballot in Orange County.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].

One comment

  • Comment

    March 15, 2022 at 9:06 pm

    ANS soon we will take on the change of Windsor

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