Florida’s Veterans’ Affairs Chief To Step Down

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A US Marine Honor Guard from Orlando on Veterans Day in Ocala
U.S. Marine Honor Guard members from Orlando stand behind a memorial for fallen soldiers during a 2013 Veterans Day event. Mike Prendergast, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, said Tuesday he’d be stepping down to run for Citrus County sheriff. (File/WUFT News)

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Executive Director Mike Prendergast told Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday that he is resigning to run for Citrus County sheriff.

Prendergast, who has had a home in the Gulf Coast county for more than two years, said he will recommend Al Carter, the Veterans’ Affairs deputy executive director, as his replacement.

“Al has been in the agency with me for almost four and a half years now, and Al understands how the agency works,” Prendergast told reporters after formally advising Scott and the Cabinet of his plans during a meeting at the Capitol.

Carter is a retired U.S. Army colonel who spent 28 years in the military, including tours in Qatar, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Prendergast, a Republican, will run for a position that has been held by Democrat Jeff Dawsy for two decades. Dawsy has announced he will not seek re-election.

Prendergast, who becomes the fifth candidate to enter the sheriff’s contest, said Citrus County may be ready for “a fresh face” and added that one out of every five voters in the county has served in the military.

“There are a lot of counties across our state that have a huge veteran demographic, but this is by far one of the largest veteran demographics among the electorate,” Prendergast said.

Prendergast served as Scott’s first chief of staff before taking over Veterans’ Affairs in June 2011.

Scott and the Cabinet accepted the resignation.

“We do expect you to win if you’re going to do this,” Scott told Prendergast.

Prendergast, a graduate of Clearwater Central Catholic High School, spent 31 years with the armed forces. He served as a military police officer and on combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with assignments in Africa, Europe and Asia, according to his Veterans’ Affairs biography.

He retired from active duty on Oct. 1, 2009 but said he has retained his law-enforcement certification.

The sheriff’s race would not be Prendergast’s first campaign. In 2010, he lost a congressional race to Democrat Kathy Castor in a Tampa Bay-area district.

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