Many of Florida’s top elected officials, prominent lawyers, lobbyists and judges gathered Monday to remember Peter Antonacci, the high-profile state government official and go-to-guy for several Governors.
Antonacci died suddenly late last month.
Both Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott joined the group at Florida State University’s alumni center to honor Antonacci, who, at the time of his death, was overseeing the state’s election crimes and security office.
“We have lost a great Floridian, a great leader, and a great man,” said 1st District Court of Appeal Chief Judge Lori Rowe.
Those who eulogized Antonacci, who spent decades in and out of state government, included his daughters, Alexis Lambert and Claudia Hadjigeorgiou, as well as a quartet of longtime friends and business associates: state Administrative Judge John Newton, Gray Robinson Chair of Government Affairs and Lobbying Jason Unger, Franklin County Tax Collector Richard Watson, and Judge Rowe.
Lambert, Chief of Staff for the Florida Division of Bond Finance, and Hadjigeorgiou, a lawyer in Virginia, recalled that their father was the designated person to speak at family funerals.
“So today we do this not because he would have expected it, but because it’s what he would do,” Lambert said, standing alongside her younger sister. Hadjigeorgiou noted that while his loss has been painful, they are taking great comfort knowing their father died “just as he would have hoped.”
“Many of you may have heard that just like in the classic cartoon, he always joked that he wanted a piano to fall on his head, from high above, and that would be it,” she said. “We think that he got the closest possible equivalent. Although far sooner than we would have liked, he left us quickly, without suffering and very much still in the mix just as he would have wanted.”
The pair went on to read a letter Antonacci penned giving them 10 pieces of advice, which included counting on him to be their ally and shameless cheerleader and to be curious about things and people. He also advised his daughters to “keep your expectations about life in general, and people in particular, proportional and reasonable,” a line that drew laughter from the large crowd who came to honor him.
Newton, who met Antonacci while at Florida State University College of Law, described his longtime friend as modest, noting that Antonacci would nix his efforts to have him recognized for his work.
“He was always concerned that it would draw attention away from his principal at a time when it was important,” said Newton, who had known Antonacci for 47 years. “Apparently, getting well-deserved awards wasn’t best for his principal. Maybe there is a posthumous reward out there.”
Newton noted rare instances when Antonacci was willing to take credit and be recognized. He received praise for creating the so-called Everglades Liberation Army, the most successful python eradication program Florida has ever launched. Another exception, Newton said, was in 2018 when Antonacci was inducted into the Miami Dade Community College Hall of Fame.
Antonacci’s career included stints working for then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth tackling assignments handed to him by Governors, including shepherding the Broward County Elections Office following the tumultuous 2018 election, when the Elections Supervisor resigned after Scott initially tried to suspend her.
He also headed the South Florida Water Management District and served as Chief Judge of the State Division of Administrative Hearings, the state’s legal system. Attending Monday’s memorial were people who worked with Antonacci across various agencies.
DeSantis recently tapped Antonacci to lead the Office of Election Crimes and Security heading into the 2022 campaign cycle. The office is the Department of State’s new unit to investigate election crimes and voter fraud, a mission that drew condemnation from Democrats and DeSantis’ critics.
Newton and others fondly recalled Antonacci’s clever turn of phrases, including words like “strategery.”