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Caught in Blackface, Florida Elections Chief Resigns

These photos, used with permission of The Tallahassee Democrat, show Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel in blackface at a 2005 Halloween party. (Tallahassee Democrat)
These photos, used with permission of The Tallahassee Democrat, show Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel in blackface at a 2005 Halloween party. (Tallahassee Democrat)
January 25, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's new elections chief was forced to resign on Thursday after just three weeks on the job, when a newspaper published pictures of him appearing in blackface.

Secretary of State Michael Ertel resigned just hours after testifying before a state legislative committee about elections lawsuits following Florida's controversial midterms.

The Tallahassee Democrat published photos of him at a Halloween party in 2005, dressed in blackface, wearing earrings, a New Orleans Saints bandanna and fake breasts, under a shirt with "Katrina Victim" written on it.

That year, Ertel served as Seminole County Supervisor of Elections. Former Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho recalls Ertel having an independent streak as a supervisor.

"He really kind of ran his own independent operation, used social media well, and I was shocked by this whole story," says Sancho.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Ertel regrets dressing up in blackface and said he was right to step down.

Gov. DeSantis took Ertel's recommendation to suspend Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, claiming the Democrat was "incompetent" and broke elections laws. Democrats have criticized the suspension as politically motivated.

Sancho says Ertel's replacement should be someone with experience, perhaps another supervisor.

"And quite frankly, I think of all the Secretary of State duties, the one that they're going to have to deal with first is elections," says Sancho.

Ertel was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005, the same year Hurricane Katrina blasted the southeast coast, leaving in its wake more than 1,800 deaths, catastrophic flooding and billions of dollars of damage, mostly in New Orleans.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL