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In video, Seminole elections chief says ‘so much racism’ in county – Orlando Sentinel



Supervisor of Elections Chris Anderson, Seminole’s first and only Black constitutional officer, said in an emotional video he posted this week on TikTok that he’s encountered repeated racism from county leaders since he first took office nearly five years ago.

“I’ve experienced so much racism since I have been here,” said Anderson alongside his wife in the 10-minute video posted last Sunday. “I was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. … That day, after I was appointed, my wife and I had a meeting with individuals in this county, white men, who told us: They said, ‘Listen, white people consider you as a Black person to be stupid, to be dumb, and that you’ll ‘F’ something up.’ That’s exactly what they said.”

Anderson also claimed in the video that a former county commissioner while in office frequently tried “to kill projects slated for the Supervisor of Elections Office.”

“It is mentally and physically draining, and it breaks my heart to continue to go through this,” Anderson said.

When reached by phone Wednesday, Anderson said he wasn’t prepared to go into detail on the allegations but will in the future. He said “it has been going on for a long time.”

“I’m trying to handle it in the best way it is to handle it right now,” he said. “I plan to go into detail in the future, because I believe the public has a right to know. … My ultimate job is to protect my wife and children, and that’s what’s most important to me. I also care about the condition in which people of color are served and dealt with, not only in Seminole County but across the country. I plan on speaking up to seek change and seek accountability.”

In the video, Anderson, a former law enforcement officer, also accused a Seminole deputy sheriff of racially profiling his wife, Ebony Anderson, near Lake Mary. But he did not offer any further details.

“I told the Sheriff [Dennis Lemma] about it, and you know what he said to me? I know it happened, but I don’t think I can prove it,” an angry Anderson said in the video. “What am I supposed to do?”

His wife then held back tears in explaining her frustration.

“I don’t feel safe being in Seminole County,” Ebony Anderson said in the video. “I hate it here. I hate it. I’ve never felt like this before. I’m serious. … I’m so sick of this [expletive]. I just want to go.”

When contacted by the Orlando Sentinel about the video, sheriff’s spokesperson Bob Kealing said the Sheriff’s Office looked into Anderson’s concerns regarding a deputy’s encounter with his wife last November.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Ebony Anderson stepped out of her car after parking in a Lake Mary lot where the Sheriff’s Office has its north region office. A deputy nearby noticed a piece of paper on the ground near her car.

“The deputy approached her to ask her if she had dropped something, indicating that there was something (paper) on the ground,” Kealing said in an email to the Sentinel. “She responded she had not, and each party parted ways in a positive manner. That was the extent of the interaction. …The Sheriff encourages deputies to courteously interact with members of the public, not only when responding to calls for service.”

Kealing said Lemma later “personally met” with Anderson on Nov. 16 and Dec. 2 to discuss the incident after Anderson voiced concerns.

“After a preliminary review of the interaction, Sheriff Lemma updated Supervisor Anderson, including clarifying incorrect information that the deputy thought Mrs. Anderson’s behavior was suspicious, which had initially been conveyed by a supervisor,” Kealing said in his email.

Kealing noted that neither Anderson nor his wife “pursued further action.”

County Commission Chair Amy Lockhart said Wednesday Anderson’s claims of racism should not be taken lightly, and she hopes that he works with the county in investigating his allegations.

“I think it’s a very serious claim and one that needs to be taken seriously,” Lockhart said. “There is no room for racism anywhere in our county.”

Anderson has long been frustrated with Seminole commissioners and county staff for moving at a slow pace in executing plans to build a new and larger headquarters at the Five Points Complex for the Supervisor of Elections Office. It would replace the current cramped headquarters off East Airport Boulevard near the Orlando Sanford International Airport.

Anderson said the county’s growing population and the explosion of voters using mail-in ballots has meant his office has outgrown the current 18,000-square-foot building. He said the county’s elections office needs a facility of at least 52,000 square feet by the year 2042 to meet the estimated growth of new voters.

“It’s just been slow rolled,” Anderson said Wednesday.

Seminole spokesperson Andy Wontor said a consultant hired by the county is currently conducting a space needs study.

Anderson was selected by DeSantis in January 2019 at age 37 to replace Mike Ertel as Seminole’s supervisor of elections after Ertel had been picked a month earlier to serve as Florida’s secretary of state in Tallahassee.

However, Ertel resigned a few weeks later after photos emerged showing him wearing blackface at a Halloween party in 2005. The photos were taken two months after Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,000 people.

Ertel apologized for the incident and said he did “something stupid.”

Anderson in February 2019 hired Ertel on a three-month contract for a total of $15,000 as a consultant and to help the Supervisor of Elections Office prepare for elections that year.

An Army veteran, Anderson previously worked as chief investigations officer for the Seminole Tax Collector’s Office under Joel Greenberg and oversaw the office’s new security measures. He also served as a deputy sheriff for Seminole and Indian River counties and worked as an Apopka Police officer.

Help from Joel Greenberg, his allies boosted Seminole election chief’s rise to public office

In 2020, Anderson was elected to a four-year term. He said he plans to seek reelection in 2024. Like the sheriff, tax collector, clerk of court and property appraiser, the supervisor of elections is a countywide elected office established by the Florida Constitution.

In the TikTok video, Chris Anderson says he posted it on social media because he and his wife will “start holding people accountable for their bad behavior” and to make people aware that racism exists in Seminole County.

“I’m not going to sit back, [and] be quiet anymore,” he said in the video.

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