The Tom Joyner Family Reunion kicked off on Thursday night at Gaylord Palms Resort as comedian J. Anthony Brown took to the stage. (Photo by Vikki Hankins).

KISSIMMEE — There was a life-size figure of President Obama that anyone could take a photo with, or a life-size figure of the man who was hosting and sponsoring the big weekend bash, radio talk show host Tom Joyner. And while the annual Allstate Tom Joyner Family Reunion is a weekend celebration, that didn’t stop a little bit of politics from dipping its toes into the waters a few times.
The Labor Day weekend event that Joyner has hosted for the past eight years is being held at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee this weekend. While the crowd got entertained by R&B singers and comedians, there was some politicking going on as well, including an appearance on the main stage by a congressional candidate who has already generated plenty of buzz — and also happens to be from Orlando.
“Today we celebrate family,” said Val Demings, the former chief of police for the Orlando Police Department, who retired from that position this past summer, then launched her bid for Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which covers parts of Orlando and Orange, Osceola, Lake and Marion counties.
Demings is challenging freshman Congressman Dan Webster, R-Orlando, at a time when Congress’ approval ratings are abysmally low — just 14 percent, according to a CNN poll released on Aug. 4 — and when incumbents are expected to have a rough time getting re-elected next year.
But Demings won’t have a clear shot at Webster. Former Congressman Alan Grayson, who was defeated by Webster in 2010, and state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, are also expected to seek the Democratic Party nomination in the 8th District. It’s also possible that the Florida Legislature will change the district lines next year, since 2012 marks the start of the redistricting process, done every ten years as states redraw congressional districts to reflect population shifts. The 8th Congressional District grew considerably in the past decade and now has 100,000 more residents more than is needed for the population limit.
Demings made no reference to her opponents during her appearance at the Tom Joyner Family Reunion, but instead pointed out how great it was that she and her husband, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, had been given an opportunity to become the top law enforcement officials in Orange County.
“This is a magical city where you can have an African American chief of police and an African American sheriff,” Val Demings said.
Demings wasn’t the only one to talk politics during the event. Don Lemon, the CNN news anchor, was on hand to talk about his memoir, Transparent, during an interview on stage with Sybil Wilkes, co-host of the Tom Joyner Morning Show. Wilkes noted that in 2012, Lemon would be covering the presidential campaign as President Obama runs for a second term, and a host of GOP candidates — including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, among others — would be seeking their party’s nomination to challenge the president.
“Are you looking forward to this next year?” Wilkes asked.
“Oh, Lordy,” Lemon said. “This election is going to be a doozie. I’m sleeping now because I know I’m not going to get any sleep.”
Facing an audience that appeared to remain positive about the president’s job performance, Lemon cautioned that President Obama would be facing a touch re-election if the economy remains stagnant through 2012.
“We just learned this morning that there were no new jobs created in August,” Lemon noted.
Comedian Dominique even joked about the state of the economy, saying “The economy’s so bad, you can’t even get out of a bad relationship if you want to — you can’t afford to move out!”
Not everyone wanted to talk politics, though. Monica May, the host of the Tom Joyner Morning Show and news/community affairs director at STAR 94.5 COX radio station in Orlando, urged the crowd to enjoy themselves and have a lot of fun.
“Just give me some love, just start the love flowing,” she said during the kickoff on Thursday night. “Let’s rock the house.”
Demings agreed, saying, “We want you to have a real good time.”
Joyner said he was thrilled at the huge crowd that had turned out for this event, as he welcomed them on opening night.
“This is very, very nice,” he said. “Everybody’s here!”

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