A Florida state lawmaker is rejecting calls to resign after a high school photo showing him in blackface resurfaced.
A photo of state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a 30-year-old Republican representing House District 32, surfaced last year before he was elected, but recent blackface controversies in Florida and Virginia have refreshed the scrutiny around the photo.
The image shows Sabatini with darkened skin while wearing sunglasses, a New York Yankees cap, a do-rag and gold chains.
Sabatini told the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday that the photo was “decontextualized,” indicating it was not racist, and told the newspaper it was a prank between him and a high school friend, who is black, to dress like each other.
“I’m 16 years old, one of my best friends of the time was black, and we thought at the time — looking back, it was immature — it would be funny to dress as each other,” Sabatini told the newspaper. “He dressed in my clothes — a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, shorts, Converse — and I dressed in his clothing … None of us thought 14 years later any of us would be a public figure and the photo would be decontextualized.”
Sabatini accused the Democratic Party of doing “whatever it takes to influence” elections in the Sunshine State, including “going into high school yearbook pictures of you.”
Florida Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo and Cynthia Brown, Sabatini’s former Democratic opponent, have both called on Sabatini to step down.
“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 a Facebook post, according to the paper. “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.”
Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel resigned last month after photos surfaced showing him wearing blackface and dressing as a “Hurricane Katrina victim.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has also faced calls to resign over a photo on his medical school yearbook page showing one man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes.
The Virginia GOP issued a call for Northam to resign:
Our call for Ralph Northam’s resignation stands. His self-serving statements did nothing to rectify his past indiscretions. His stance on life and his racist past are inexcusable. Like we said yesterday, Governor Northam has lost the moral authority to govern our Commonwealth.
— Virginia GOP (RPV) (@VA_GOP) February 2, 2019