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Santa Rosa Commissioner Sam Parker apologizes for anti-Semitic remark

Santa Rosa County Commissioner Sam Parker at Thursday's meeting.
Screenshot by WUWF Public Media
Santa Rosa County Commissioner Sam Parker at Thursday's meeting.

Santa Rosa County District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker is under fire for an anti-Semitic comment he made that was brought to the public’s attention earlier this week. He apologized Thursday.

“I used a figure of speech that I’ve since learned that has a history of being meant to be derogatory toward Jewish people,” said Parker during Thursday morning’s public comment forum. “At the time when I made the statement, I had absolutely no intent of saying anything offensive or derogatory towards any group of people or any individuals.”

“I’m sorry for the pain or suffering that my statement caused.”

Parker also personally apologized to County Attorney Tom Dannheisser, who is Jewish.

“Tom, I know you’re Jewish and I’m sorry for using that phrase in your presence,” he said.

Dannheisser, whose family helped establish the first reform synagogue in Florida and has deep roots in Pensacola and Milton, said he was grateful for the apology, but added that it wasn’t necessary.

“The phrase you used is not right, but I’ve heard it my whole life from friends, strangers, and acquaintances, ones that even knew I was Jewish,” he said. “I’m not offended, if other people are, that's their right. But, I know you’re not you’re not a hateful person, but I appreciate your comments.”

The issue was brought up Monday evening during a public comment periodwhen Gulf Breeze resident Chris Smith presented a surveillance video inside a local business of Commissioner Parker asking for a discount after using an anti-Semitic term.

RELATED: House Bill 269 seeks to curb rash of anti-Semitic incidents in Florida

At least four other speakers during the public forum Monday asked for Parker to resign taking issue both with the anti-Semitic term and his asking a business for a discount — joke or not.

“First off, he used an ethnic slur – which is absolutely ridiculous in 2023,” said Chris Smith speaking Monday evening. “And how he’s asked a local small business not to charge sales tax if he paid with cash…That’s not how a county commissioner of this county should act or do business, so I’m asking you if you’re going to resign.”

Santa Rosa Clerk of Court Donald Spencer added his comments Monday saying Parker’s actions hurt the credibility of the five-member board.

“Our community doesn’t trust our board, and it’s things like this that cause that to happen,” he said.

Parker originally dismissed the video, which was recorded in January, saying it was taken out of context as he repeated the term two more times. The commissioner, who also works in real estate, said he was simply “horsing around” as a regular customer of the business. He argued the term was not an ethnic slur.

“I’m not referring to the Jewish community,” he said. “I used that term as an adjective — as a descriptive word of bargaining them down.”

However, he conceded residents who wished to do so could file an ethics complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Parker’s comments caught the attention of not just local news, but national news sites includingNewsweek and The Jerusalem Post. According to a 2022 report from the Anti-Defamation League antisemitism had reached an all-time high in the United States in 2021.

At Thursday’s public comment period, a few residents said the video was an embarrassment for the entire county.

“You could have apologized on Monday,” said Milton resident Jerry Couey. “You could’ve stopped 48 hours of a news cycle that has made the entirety of Santa Rosa County the laughing stock of the world. I hope you’ve learned something here. We will be apologizing for your actions for months and years to come.”

Smith also spoke at Thursday’s meeting, once again, asking Parker to resign.

“I’m asking you again Sam, to resign your position so you can quit embarrassing our county.”

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.
Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.