Florida’s new secretary of state has resigned, after photos surfaced of him dressed in blackface in an effort to portray a Hurricane Katrina victim just months after the massive storm wrecked New Orleans.
Michael Ertel, appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Dec. 28, was at a private Halloween party 14 years ago when he wore the offensive costume, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, which obtained and published the photos on Thursday.
In the images, Ertel wore blackface, a purple shirt that read “Katrina Victim” in black letters, a New Orleans Saints bandana, and false breasts. At the time, he was the Seminole County supervisor of elections.
Hours after the Democrat published the photos, DeSantis announced Ertel had resigned.
"It's unfortunate. He's done a lot of good work," DeSantis told reporters at an unrelated press conference on hurricane relief.
Category 5 Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 1,900 people when a massive 27.8-foot storm surge swept the Gulf Coast in 2005, and nearly one in three black residents haven’t returned to New Orleans since the storm hit.
During the press conference, DeSantis added that he accepted Ertel’s resignation because "I don't want to get mired in side controversies."
Such “side controversies” aren’t new to DeSantis, who was accused of running a racist campaign against his black opponent, Andrew Gillum, last fall. In an interview with Fox shortly after the state’s August primary, DeSantis warned Gillum could “monkey this up” if elected, although DeSantis denied his statement was racially insensitive.
According to the Democrat, Ertel, now 49, also worked in public relations and as a spokesman for Seminole County. He once provided post-hurricane media relations for Visit Florida after a hurricane hit the state in 2004. He also spent eight years in the U.S. Army and provided public relations services amid the 1992 LA riots, which erupted after a black man, Rodney King, was violently attacked by police.
Cover image: In this Jan. 30, 2013, file photo, Michael Ertel speaks during a panel discussion on election problems at a pre-legislative news conference in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon, File)