Florida Elections Official Resigns Over Blackface Photo

(CN) – Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel resigned Thursday after less than a month on the job following a newspaper’s release of photos showing the elections official in blackface and posing as a Hurricane Katrina victim at a 2005 Halloween party.

In this Jan. 30, 2013 file photo, Michael Ertel speaks during a panel discussion on election problems at a news conference in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon, File)

The resignation came an hour before Governor Ron DeSantis spoke at a press conference to announce more federal aid for counties affected by Hurricane Michael, which ravaged the Florida Panhandle last fall.

In the photos, taken at a party in October 2005 and obtained by the Tallahasee Democrat, Ertel wore dark face paint, lipstick, a New Orleans Saints bandana and a shirt that read “Hurricane Katrina victim.”

Ertel, appointed by DeSantis on Dec. 28, submitted his resignation to the governor via email at 1:59 p.m. Thursday.

“I am submitting my resignation as Florida secretary of state effective immediately,” Ertel, 49, wrote. “It has been an honor to serve you and the voters of Florida.”

At 3 p.m., with a backdrop of damaged buildings and piled-up debris, DeSantis confirmed the resignation.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” DeSantis said. “I think he’s done a lot of good work, but at the same time, I’ve got to have an administration that’s going to be focused on what matters to Floridians, and I don’t want to get mired into kind of side controversies. So, I felt it was best to just accept the resignation and move on.”

“I think he regrets that whole thing 14 years ago,” the governor continued, “but at the same time I want people to be able to lead and not have these things swirling around them, so I thought it was best to just move on.”

Ertel could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

His official photo and name was already removed from the Florida secretary of state website Thursday afternoon. He seemed to have deleted his Twitter account as well.

Ertel served as the supervisor of elections for Seminole County in Central Florida from February 2005, months before the Halloween party, until DeSantis appointed him to the top elections post. During that time, the city of Longwood gave him a Martin Luther King Jr. award for his work registering voters.

Governor DeSantis spoke in Marianna, a small Panhandle town devastated by Hurricane Michael, to announce more federal aid for areas hit hard by the Category 5 storm.

DeSantis said he met one-on-one with President Donald Trump earlier in the week, who agreed to extend the FEMA deadline for debris removal reimbursements.

DeSantis said the Panhandle has 25 million cubic square yards of debris spread across several counties. He pointed to the small town of Mexico Beach, where Hurricane Michael made landfall. The town has a $3 million annual budget but $80 million in debris costs, he said.

“That has put an enormous stress on the counties and the localities here,” DeSantis said.

During questioning by reporters, DeSantis said he and Trump only spoke generally about the current government shutdown. The governor said the shutdown would not impact recovery for the Panhandle.

“The disaster relief money is there so it’s not going to be impacted by this, so I’m confident we’ll be able to go forward,” he said. “Look, I think [the shutdown is] just something they need to resolve, so I’m hopeful they are going to do that soon.”

During last year’s gubernatorial campaign, DeSantis garnered charges of racism himself.

In an interview on Fox News the day after the primary, DeSantis said Floridians shouldn’t “monkey this up” by electing his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, who is black. He was also criticized for speaking at events alongside white nationalist speakers.

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