Peter Antonacci, who Florida governors turned to for sensitive, high-profile assignments, died Friday.
Antonacci, 74, held many top government roles, mostly appointed by Republicans, but was also a top lieutenant to a Democratic former attorney general.
Over the summer, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to lead the newly created state elections crime investigation unit.
“He was a dedicated, tenacious, and assiduous public servant, lawyer, and respected professional — a friend to all in the State of Florida. He vigilantly sought to uphold the law throughout his lengthy career,” DeSantis said in a statement. “His fighting passion will be missed, and his legacy will persist in the hearts and minds of many.”
He’d also been appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott to several high-profile, important jobs, including Broward Supervisor of Elections, Palm Beach County state attorney and executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.
“Pete Antonacci was a dedicated public servant and a devoted family man. Ann and I are devastated to learn of his loss and are praying for his family, friends and the countless Floridians who knew and loved Pete as we did,” said Scott, currently a Republican U.S. senator.
Antonacci “devoted decades of his life to serving Florida families as a prosecutor, master of the law and leader. When it came to his work, Pete could get anything done,” Scott said in a statement. “Pete worked hard, with total integrity, and knew how to bring people together and solve problems. I was honored to call him a friend and proud to work with him. Pete will be terribly missed, but leaves behind a remarkable legacy of honorable service to our great State of Florida.”
His death was first reported by the Florida Politics website.
Earlier in his career, Antonacci was deputy to then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat. Before that, Antonacci was statewide prosecutor in Butterworth’s office.
When he was appointed as Broward supervisor of elections in 2018, it was Butterworth who held the Bible at the swearing-in ceremony.
“Public service, that’s what he truly, truly loved,” Butterworth said in a phone interview.
“He did so many great things. He was a great deputy attorney general. He was a great statewide prosecutor. Everything he did, he did it correctly, with passion, with the highest of ethics, and made a difference,” Butterworth said. “I understand why governors chose him for various jobs, difficult jobs. He never had an easy one. But Pete always got the job done, professionally.”
Antonacci was dispatched to Broward in November 2018 by Scott, at a time when Scott was fuming over the just-completed midterm. Scott won the Senate seat in that election — after a statewide recount of an election that included multiple mistakes under then-Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. (Snipes resigned after the election. Scott fired her and appointed Antonacci before Snipes’ resignation could take effect. The following year, DeSantis came to an agreement in which Snipes was allowed to resign. DeSantis kept Antonacci in place.)
“When he became the supervisor of elections here in Broward County, what a change, what a change. We probably had the best election we’ve had in decades, when he was the head of it,” Butterworth said.
After he finished as Broward elections supervisor following the 2020 election, he returned home to Tallahassee. DeSantis and Republicans in the Florida Cabinet appointed him as chief judge of the state Division of Administrative hearings.
In July, DeSantis appointed Antonacci as director of the new Office of Elections Crimes and Security, a controversial new agency created this year. He was involved in a controversial announcement last month by DeSantis that 20 former felons who weren’t eligible to vote had cast ballots. It later turned out that their improper voter registrations hadn’t been flagged by DeSantis’ Secretary of State’s Office, and attorneys for many of those charged said they thought they were eligible to vote.
Richard DeNapoli, Broward’s state Republican committeeman, wrote on Twitter that Antonacci’s death was “very sad news. He was a great friend and mentor.”
Many Democrats also praised Antonacci on Friday.
“Pete was beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the finest people I have ever had the honor of knowing. He wasn’t just a jack of all trades but was an organizational master who understood how to bring out the best out in people. Florida was lucky beyond measure to have had him for as long as we did,” said Steve Vancore, a Democratic pollster and strategist who was a friend of Antonacci for years, and sometimes worked with him.
Vancore said Antonacci died of a heart attack while at work. Information about funeral arrangements wasn’t available Friday night.
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Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, a former Democratic leader in the Florida Senate and Florida House of Representatives, said by text that he “Worked with Pete in Tallahassee and while he served as as SOE Broward and always found him to be more professional than partisan. It’s a loss for the state of Florida.”
Broward Mayor Michael Udine and Antonacci served together on the county’s three-member elections Canvassing Board when Antonacci was elections supervisor.
Udine, a Democrat, said Antonacci’s Republican affiliation didn’t affect the way he approached the job. “I thought he was very fair when he did the canvassing. I thought he was a total professional administrator. It didn’t matter what his political party was,” Udine said in a phone interview.
And Mitch Ceasar, former longtime Broward Democratic chairman, said via text that even though he was on the opposite side of the political aisle, “his intelligence and straight shooting was always obvious.”
Even after he became a Republican, Butterworth said, it didn’t change Antonacci’s approach. “He was always the same Pete, the same wonderful person,” he said. “I never got the impression he was a partisan guy, no matter what his party was. He would do his best for the people he was working with and for, which was the people of the state of Florida.”