Florida’s newly appointed secretary of state, once described as a “glimmer of hope” for the state’s new administration, resigned Thursday after the emergence of photos from 2005 of him in blackface, apparently mimicking victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Tallahassee Democrat news outlet reported.
The photos — obtained by the news outlet and presented to the office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday — show Michael Ertel wearing blackface with red lipstick and a New Orleans Saints bandanna. He also donned a shirt that read “Katrina Victim,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
Ertel, 49, confirmed to the news outlet that he was the man pictured. “There’s nothing I can say,” he said.
He submitted his resignation about 2 p.m. by email, the DeSantis’s press office told The Washington Post.
“It has been an honor to serve you and the voters of Florida,” Ertel wrote in the email. DeSantis’s office accepted Ertel’s resignation shortly after seeing the photos, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
The photos were reportedly taken at a private Halloween party 14 years ago, two months after Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 storm to which more than 1,800 deaths have been attributed, hit New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast, acc
ording to the news outlet. At the time the photos were taken, Ertel was the supervisor of elections in Seminole County. DeSantis appointed Ertel as secretary of state on Dec. 28.
DeSantis’s office said it had not seen the photos of Ertel before the news outlet showed them Thursday.
“It’s unfortunate. He’s done a lot of good work,” DeSantis said at a Thursday news conference on hurricane relief, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. DeSantis said he accepted the resignation because he didn’t “want to get mired in side controversies.”
He added that he thinks Ertel regrets the incident but that he felt it was best to “accept the resignation and move on.” The governor faced his own controversy while campaigning in August after stating that Florida voters shouldn’t “monkey this up” by supporting then-gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (D), who is black.
When DeSantis appointed Ertel to replace Secretary of State Ken Detzner, he lauded the eight-year Army veteran for leadership and expertise in elections. Ertel was reelected as Seminole County supervisor of elections four times and received an award named after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for registering voters, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
In a December statement, DeSantis said Ertel would preserve “the state’s historical and cultural heritage” and enhance Florida communities through grant programs.
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board endorsed the selection earlier this month, noting that Ertel said ex-felons should be able to register to vote as soon as Amendment 4 took effect on Jan. 8. The amendment, which Florida voters passed in November, restored voting rights to 1.4 million ex-felons.
The editorial board at the time said Ertel’s selection offered a “glimmer of hope that the new administration won’t be backed with partisan ideologues.”