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Mike Ertel resigns as Florida secretary of state after blackface photos surface

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 1/24/2019 Steven Lemongello
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Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel resigned Thursday after photos emerged of him wearing blackface as a Hurricane “Katrina victim” at a Halloween party in 2005.

The stunning development ended the former Seminole election supervisor’s 16-day stint as Florida’s top elections officer.

The Tallahassee Democrat obtained the photos and showed them to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office Thursday morning. The governor’s office announced Ertel’s resignation just hours later.

“It has been an honor to serve you and the voters of Florida,” Ertel’s resignation letter stated.

The Democrat reported that the photos were taken a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in August 2005.

Ertel told the paper he was the man “in blackface and red lipstick, wearing earrings and a New Orleans Saints bandanna, and falsies under a purple T-shirt that had ‘Katrina Victim’ written on it.”

Ertel would not talk with the Democrat about the circumstances surrounding the photo.

“There's nothing I can say,” Ertel said. He did not respond to the Sentinel’s request for comment.

Ertel had been Supervisor of Elections in Seminole County since 2005 before his appointment by DeSantis to the state job.

a man standing in front of a store: Mike Ertel © Provided by Local News RSS EN-US Mike Ertel “That is not the Mike Ertel that I know,” said Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine, who had been considered one of the potential successors to Ertel as supervisor.

DeSantis named Chris Anderson, chief investigations officer for the Seminole County Tax Collector’s Office, as the county’s new supervisor of elections on Jan. 18.

Ertel’s appointment to the key post, which oversees the Division of Elections, earned bipartisan praise after the state dealt with election chaos following the November election and the unprecedented three statewide recounts.

Ertel, 49, “has proven that he is vastly qualified to lead the state’s elections efforts as Secretary of State, and will strive to ensure that Florida voters are confident that elections continue to be fair and accurate,” DeSantis said at the time.

Ertel had long been active on social media, providing opinions on Twitter and Facebook about elections issues. But on Thursday, his Twitter account was deactivated.

The Seminole elections office also received plaudits for its programs, including the student registration efforts which earned it a prestigious First Time Voters Award in 2017 from the International Elections Awards in Jordan.

On Friday, DeSantis suspended Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher at the recommendation of Ertel, who wrote a three-page letter that listed what he called “ingrained institutional incompetence” at the Palm Beach office.

“I strongly recommend you [suspend Bucher],” Ertel wrote, “allowing fresh, competent leadership to take the reins of the much-maligned office.”

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.

slemongello@orlandosentinel.com, 407-418-5920, @stevelemongello, facebook/stevelemongello

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