Florida’s top elections official abruptly resigned Thursday after a newspaper obtained pictures of him in blackface dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim at a 2005 party.
The Tallahassee Democrat obtained pictures taken at a Halloween party 14 years ago that show Secretary of State Michael Ertel in blackface while wearing earrings, a New Orleans Saints bandanna and fake breasts under a purple T-shirt with “Katrina Victim” written on it.
The photos were taken two months after the deadly storm ravaged the Gulf Coast region and eight months after Ertel was appointed Seminole County supervisor of elections. The newspaper hasn’t said how it got the photos or identified the source.
Ertel, who had been on the job less than three weeks, resigned just hours after he testified about election lawsuits before a state legislative committee. He didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
“There’s nothing I can say,” he told the paper.
The Republican was Seminole elections supervisor until last month, when new Gov. Ron DeSantis picked him to take over the state department that oversees elections. At the time, Ertel’s appointment was praised by some Democrats who noted his lengthy tenure as a central Florida elections official.
DeSantis said Ertel regretted dressing up in blackface but was right to step down after the pictures surfaced.
“I want people to be able to lead and not have any of these things swirling around,” said DeSantis, who was in Marianna to discuss relief efforts for areas hit hard by Hurricane Michael in October.
Ertel played a role in DeSantis’ decision to suspend Palm Beach County supervisor of elections Susan Bucher last week. Ertel recommended the governor take action against the Democratic official, contending that she had violated state election laws and was incompetent. Democrats have sharply criticized Bucher’s suspension as being politically motivated.
DeSantis last year defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who was seeking to become Florida’s first black governor. Gillum questioned DeSantis’ association with people seen as racially divisive.
DeSantis also came under fire in late August when he said voters should consider Florida’s economy and not “monkey this up” by choosing the “socialist agenda” of broader public spending he says Gillum espoused.
Then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Ertel as Seminole County elections supervisor in February 2005 and Ertel won four elections to keep the office. Ertel’s background includes an eight-year stint in the U.S. Army and public relations work for government agencies and a bank.