More than a week after resigning, Florida’s former secretary of state apologized Sunday over photos from 2005 that show him in blackface, the Tallahassee Democrat news outlet reported.
“I’m a better man than I was 14 years ago,” Michael Ertel wrote. “Yet, over the past week, I have been rightfully apologizing for something I did Halloween night, 2005.”
The statement on the Republican’s personal Facebook profile, which also called the pictures “an opportunity for revenge,” comes as Democrats and Republicans call for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to resign over a racist photo on Northam’s medical school yearbook page.
In the photos of Ertel, he wore blackface with red lipstick and a New Orleans Saints bandanna. He also donned a shirt that read “Katrina Victim,” according to the news outlet.
The photos were reportedly taken at a party two months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast. At the time the photos were taken, Ertel was the supervisor of elections in Seminole County. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appointed Ertel secretary of state on Dec. 28.
When presented with the images by the Tallahassee Democrat in late January, Ertel, 49, acknowledged he was the man in the picture, the Democrat reported. Florida’s top elections official submitted his resignation the same day.
“I did something stupid 14 years ago, which presented someone from my past with an opportunity for revenge,” Ertel said Sunday on Facebook, without elaborating.
DeSantis’s office, which said it had not previously seen the photos, accepted Ertel’s resignation. In a news conference, the governor said he accepted the resignation because he didn’t “want to get mired in side controversies.”
“It’s unfortunate. He’s done a lot of good work,” DeSantis said.
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 his leadership qualities and expertise in elections. Ertel was reelected 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 early last 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 packed with partisan ideologues.”
On Sunday, Ertel did not offer details on his plans for the future, according to the Associated Press, adding that “while public revenge may be sweet" for those who made the photos public, "my private redemption, new family, and blessed life have been sweeter.”
“Regardless of the circumstances which ended my public role,” Ertel wrote, “I’m a better private citizen for having served my fellow countrymen, first in the military, then in elected office and most recently as Secretary of State.”