TLALASSIE — Pete Antonacci, whose decades-long career in Florida politics and government led to his appointment this year to lead the controversial election security force of Governor Ron DeSantis, died Friday at the age of 74.
Antonacci has had an unparalleled career in state government and politics, having been appointed to various positions by five different governors from both sides of the aisle since the 1980s.
In July, DeSantis chose him to lead the state’s new Election and Security Crimes Bureau, which last month announced charges against 20 criminals for illegal voting. Most of the detainees told Florida investigators that they received a voter registration card from the county election superintendent’s office and believed they were authorized by someone in the government to vote.
DeSantis said in a statement Friday that he and his wife, Casey, are “deeply saddened” by his passing.
“He was a dedicated, diligent, diligent public servant, attorney, and respected professional—a friend to everyone in Florida,” DeSantis said. “He has vigilantly sought upholding the law throughout his long career as a deputy attorney general, state attorney general, general counsel, election overseer, and most recently as the new Florida Election Security Observer.
“His fighting passion will be lost and his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of many.”
The governor’s office did not specify the cause of Antonacci’s death, but the Florida Politics website, which first reported his death, cited a heart attack.
News of Antonacci’s death sparked praise and messages of sympathy from across the political aisle.
US Senator Rick Scott, a Republican who appointed Antonacci as his general counsel and several other positions when he was governor, said Antonacci “knew how to bring people together and solve problems.”
“I had the honor of calling him a friend and proud to work with him,” he said.
U.S. Representative Charlie Crist, who was appointed as Governor Antonacci to the Judicial Nominating Committee and reappointed to the Northwest Florida Water Management District Board, offered his condolences to the Antonacci family. Crist is now vying as a Democrat for governor against DeSantis.
“Peter Antonacci was a dedicated and respected public servant with a long history of working with members on both sides of the aisle to better Florida,” a Crest spokesperson said in a statement.
Born August 21, 1948, Antonacci was raised in Hialeah, and graduated from Hialeah High School before earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in urban and regional planning and a law degree in 1979 at Florida State University.
In 1980, he was appointed attorney general for the Tallahassee-based Judicial District, beginning a diverse—albeit at times controversial—career as a trusted counsel and political aide to some of the state’s most powerful officials.
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As a district attorney in 1987, he dismissed charges of criminal sexual harassment against powerful Representative Fred Lipman, D. Hollywood, brought by an aide to the legislator. Three months later, Antonacci applied for a job as a special prosecutor. After being selected by the Judicial Nominating Committee as a finalist, Antonacci later testified, asking Lippmann to help win the position.
He became the state’s second attorney general in 1988. From 1991 to 1997, he served as Democratic First Deputy Attorney General Bob Butterworth, managing more than 300 attorneys, according to Antonacci’s biography.
From 1998 to 2012 he worked in a private practice, mostly as a shareholder in GrayRobinson, but never found himself far from the seat of power.
Then- Gov. Jeb Bush selected him to serve on the Florida Ethics Committee in 2001, as special prosecution counsel for the Senate in 2004, the Judicial Nominating Committee in 2005 and the County Board of Water Management in 2006. Antonacci also represented Bush’s daughter, Noel, when crack cocaine was found in Her shoes in 2002.
But Antonacci became especially trusted by Scott when he became governor in 2011. After Antonacci was selected to serve as Palm Beach County’s attorney general, Scott chose him to be the governor’s general counsel in 2013.
As the governor’s chief attorney, Antonacci also found himself at the center of one of Scott’s biggest scandals in office. In 2015, then-law enforcement commissioner Gerald Bailey unexpectedly resigned. Scott said he resigned voluntarily, but Bailey said Antonacci ordered him to “retire or resign” after eight years as commissioner and more than two decades at the agency.
The dismissal of someone who reported to the Governor and Cabinet, without public discussion, appears to violate the State Open Sessions Act.
After the 2018 election, Broward County election supervisor Scott removed Brenda Snipes for alleged wrongdoing and appointed Antonacci to replace her. Despite initial complaints by Democrats, Antonacci won bipartisan praise for his handling of the 2020 election, which was the smoothest in years for the county.
Antonacci served in that position until DeSantis fired in 2019 the head of the Department of Administrative Hearings, a shadowy panel of judges that oversees state-related administrative disputes, and chose Antonacci as his replacement.
Times writers Tom Tobin and Emily L Mahoney Contribute to this story.
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