Florida Rep. refuses to resign over blackface pic, claims he was only impersonating his friend

Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini refuses to resign over a blackface picture of him resurfaced. He claims he was only impersonating his friend.

A high school photo of Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini resurfaced and began circulating before his election. It has once again become the source of controversy after Florida Democratic Chair Terry Rizzo called on Sabatini to resign.

The photo showed then-teenager Sabatini with his face blackened. In the image, he also wore gold jewelry, sunglasses, and a New York Yankees hat.

Rizzo claimed the picture shows Sabatini “displaying racist behavior.” Sabatini and a high school friend said on Tuesday that the photo was taken after the two of them dressing as each other as a prank.

The image was apparently mailed anonymously to media in Lake County during his campaign against Democrat Cynthia Brown last fall.  This time the debacle rose its head in the midsts of two other prominent blackface scandals.

Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel resigned in January after photos surfaced of him wearing blackface in 2005 while dressing as a Hurricane Katrina victim. His incident was followed almost immediately by a scandal involving Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

Images from Northam's medical yearbook of a man in blackface and a man in KKK robes surfaced. The pics forced Northam to release a statement denying he was either man.

On the heels of Northam's statement came a demand from Brown. She called on Sabatini to resign in a Facebook post on Monday.

“I don’t care what age you are, where you grew up, what political party you belong in, this is not where we belong,” Brown wrote. “In light of the Florida Secretary of State resigning for belonging to such a disgusting racial divide (and by the way the Democratic [governor] of VA should also resign, so I am being consistent on my position), my former opponent Sabatini should resign. Anthony, you cannot represent ALL of the people of our district, just as the Florida Secretary of State decided he couldn’t. Do what is right for once, step down and resign.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Rizzo wrote:

“Gov. DeSantis did the right thing in accepting Michael Ertel's resignation – and he and Leader Jose Oliva should do the right thing and ask for the resignation of Rep. Anthony Sabatini. In calling out racist behavior Florida Democrats and Republicans should stand united.”

Sabatini, 30,  denied the photo was racist. He insisted the pic had been “decontextualized”  adding that it was simply a teenage prank between two friends at Eustis High School.

He claims his image had “zero” in common with the Ertel and Northam scandals. He is insistent that the Democratic Party are only pointing the finger at him because they want "to do whatever it takes to influence [elections], including going into high school yearbook pictures of you.”

His friend, Brandon Evans, agreed with him. He said,

“Every year at high school homecoming week, we had things like ‘80s days and celebrity days. We said, ‘I’m going to be you and you’re going to be me.’ I don’t know how it got to be seen as racial. That’s all it was.”

In a statement Wednesday, leader Josie Oliva also rejected Rizzo’s demand that Sabatini resign.

Instead Olivia wrote, “Appearing anywhere in blackface make-up is unacceptable and Rep. Sabatini has rightfully apologized. The voters of his district were aware of this photograph and of the facts behind its creation. Once those facts were known, and both individuals in the photo spoke, it became abundantly clear that Rep. Sabatini bore no racial animus. All of us are not the people we were at 16. We grow, we learn, and we realize the world is much bigger than the walls of our high school. The people of Rep. Sabatini’s district have made their choice, with full knowledge of the photograph, and that choice will be respected.”

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