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Florida Secretary Of State Resigns After Appearing In Pictures With Black Face

Florida Secretary of State Mike Ertel resigned after the Tallahassee Democrat published pictures of the secretary in black face. Jennifer Kennedy is serving in the interim.

Ertel lasted sixteen days on the job before being forced out.

The pictures obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat show the him wearing black face, lipstick and a shirt that reads “Katrina Victim,” referencing Hurricane Katrina.

The photos were reportedly taken during a private 2005 Halloween party, when Ertel was serving as Seminole County elections supervisor.

Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters during a stop in the Panhandle he doesn’t want his administration to be “mired in side controversy.”

“I think it’s unfortunate," said DeSantis. "I think he regrets that whole thing 14, 15 years ago. But at the same time, I want people to be able to lead and not have any of these things swirling around them. So I felt it was best to just move on.” 

In a short resignation letter to the governor, Ertel said “it has been an honor to serve you and the voters of Florida.”

But Ertel’s resignation may not be adequate.

In an interview with WMFE’s Emily Lang, NAACP spokesman Malik Russell urged DeSantis to take a firm stance.

“Racism functions as a sickness in our society," said Russell. "It is important that politicians are not ambiguous in terms of where they stand against it.”

Russell is calling on DeSantis to denounce Ertel’s actions.

The first scandal of DeSantis’ administration came as a surprise. Ertel’s appointment to the office had received bipartisan praise. While in his post in Seminole County, he expanded access to voting and campaigned to restore faith in the electoral process.

Ertel’s resignation also leaves questions. The legislature is grappling with implementing Amendment Four, which gave felons the right to vote, and ongoing legal challenges from the 2018 elections.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley doesn’t think Ertel’s resignation won’t add to the problems.

“I don’t’ anticipate any real difficulties inherent upon the resignation of Secretary of State Ertel, primarily because I think he was not in office that long to really set a definitive course," said Earley. "And I think there’s people in place that can move forward with that position and any initiatives that have been promulgated so far, until there is a permanent Secretary of State appointed.”

As for Ertel’s temporary replacement, Deputy Secretary of State Jennifer Kennedy, Earley is confident she’s suited for the post. He noted her experience as interim secretary of state once before.

Shawn Mulcahy is a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU. He graduated from Florida State University in 2019 with majors in public relations and political science. He was previously an intern at WFSU, and worked as an Account Coordinator at RB Oppenheim Associates.