Val Demmings (Screenshot YouTube)
As racial tensions grow across the U.S. following another officer-involved death of an unarmed black man, a former Orlando police chief has catapulted up the shortlist of vice presidential candidates for Joe Biden, according to political insiders familiar with the vetting process.
Biden is the presumed Democratic presidential nominee for the 2020 Presidential election and publicly has stated he is committed to selecting a woman as his running mate. Privately, according to a campaign staff member, his teammate will also be African American.
“The African American community is 100% behind him knowing that the vice president will be an African American,” the staff member, who requested anonymity to speak openly, told the Baltimore Post-Examiner. “He is going to make the announcement on Aug. 1.”
Val Demings, an African American first-term U.S. Congresswoman representing Florida’s 10th District, is the former Orlando Police Chief and was the first woman to hold the top spot on the force. She could not be reached for comment.
A Deming’s campaign staff member said in an email they did not deny Demings was being aggressively vetted by the Biden team and that the congresswoman would readily accept the position if asked, information first reported by NBC News.
“Demings has impressed a lot of Democrats with her performance as a member of the House, and she does have an interesting background given recent events,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a national, non-partisan political newsletter produced at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Demings also ruffled the feathers of a lot of Republican members as a House manager during President Donald J. Trump’s impeachment hearings.
“She does not have the level of experience in high public office that vice presidential picks typically have, but she certainly makes some sense as a potential VP pick.”
Kondik said the stakes are high, and Demings would require much vetting as a former police official given the current circumstances in the U.S.
Controversy surrounding “a long string” of excessive police force allegations haunted Demings during her stint as police chief from 2007 to 2011, according to articles in The Atlantic and the Orlando Sentinel. During roughly the same time period, violent crime dropped 43.6 percent under her leadership.
“The Orlando area is electorally very important in Florida, but as a House member in a state with 27 House districts, I doubt she has much name ID statewide,” Kondik said. “That of course would change if she is selected, but I don’t know if she would generate much of a bonus in the state. That said, Florida is often decided by just a couple of points either way.”
Violent and peaceful protests sprung up in cities across the nation over the past week as a result of the officer-involved death of George Floyd, whose death was recorded on camera. Floyd, 46, died on the streets of Minneapolis with two police officers holding him down while another kept his knee inserted in Floyd’s neck until he took his last breath.
Biden has said publicly that his running mate will also be able to hit the ground running if he decides to serve only one term as president, should he win in November.
Susan Heltemes, a Democratic activist based in Montgomery County, and former county chair for Rushern Baker’s gubernatorial campaign, said based on what’s been happening in the country this past week, she said Senators Amy Klobuchar (MN), Elizabeth Warren (MA) and possibly Kamala Harris (CA) are out of contention for the vice-presidential slot.
“It seems likely that Warren and Klobuchar are out, and there is concern that Stacey Abrams doesn’t have an extensive resume,” Heltemes said.
Abrams, an attorney and former minority leader in the Georgia House of Delegates, who has openly and aggressively expressed interest in the position, lost a gubernatorial bid in 2018 during a contentious election with the Republican secretary of state who refused to step down from his position during the election.
“Biden has also said he wants to appoint an African American to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Heltemes said. “If Biden is truly interested in appointing an African American to the highest court, it is thought he would probably save Kamala Harris for that appointment.”
Harris’s office did not respond to a comment request for this article, but a Biden campaign source said knowing Harris, she would not sit around on the sidelines waiting for a court appointment.
“We know it needs to be somebody forceful and God forbid can step in in a heartbeat,” the source said. “I don’t know Val Demings’ history as police chief, but I don’t think Kamala Harris would be satisfied as a Supreme Court Justice. Maybe as Attorney General of the U.S. [But], when you look at her trajectory, it’s a political one. I think right now at the head of the list is Kamala Harris.”
Another campaign source said Susan Rice, a former National Security Advisor and Ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, is also a strong candidate.
“Susan Rice is a contender,” the source said. “Look at events being held – a multitude every week. It’s like a road map. Today is Susan Rice and Samantha Powers. Then Susan Rice again alone next week – fundraising events for Biden. They may be considering who is the biggest draw.”
Kondik said if Biden has narrowed down his list of candidates, he is unaware of it.
“Typically, vice presidential choices are not made based on their appeal in a given swing state,” Kondik said. “Biden, who knows the job well, will be looking for a governing partner and someone who might be a future presidential candidate.”
Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance journalist and award-winning investigative reporter with an eye for transparency and accountability in government and politics. Kazanjian’s reporting has triggered state investigations in police corruption, as well as changes to state policy in campaign finance and regulatory reform. During her 10-year freelance journey, she has also worked for cable television production companies like the Discovery Channel and Reelz providing true crime timelines for television series scripts.