Some lead­ers for­give Va. politi­cians

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Front Page - By Alan Su­d­er­man and Ben Fin­ley

Clamor for the res­ig­na­tion of the state’s gov­er­nor and lieu­tenant gov­er­nor seemed to die down Mon­day.

RICHMOND, Va. — The clamor for the res­ig­na­tion of Vir­ginia’s top two politi­cians seemed to die down Mon­day, with some black com­mu­nity lead­ers for­giv­ing Gov. Ralph Northam over the black­face furor and call­ing for a fair hear­ing for Lt. Gov. Justin Fair­fax on the sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions against him.

Over the past sev­eral days, prac­ti­cally the en­tire Demo­cratic es­tab­lish­ment rose up to de­mand fel­low Democrats Northam and Fair­fax im­me­di­ately step down. But the tone changed markedly af­ter the week­end.

A Demo­cratic state law­maker who had threat­ened to be­gin im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings on Mon­day morn­ing against Fair­fax, Vir­ginia’s high­est-rank­ing black politi­cian, set the idea aside af­ter run­ning into re­sis­tance.

At the same time, sev­eral black clergy and civic lead­ers made it clear they are will­ing to give both Northam and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring a sec­ond chance, while urg­ing due process for Fair­fax. Her­ring, like Northam, has ad­mit­ted putting on black­face in the 1980s.

As the in­ter­lock­ing scan­dals en­gulf­ing Vir­ginia’s top three elected Democrats de­vel­oped, it be­came in­creas­ingly clear that it could look bad for the party if Fair­fax were sum­mar­ily pushed out and the two white men man­aged to stay in power.

“The sort of irony that makes your head spin is that Her­ring and Northam are in trou­ble for be­hav­ior re­lated to Vir­ginia’s racial past. And yet it may be the only African-Amer­i­can statewide of­fice­holder who, at the end of the day, gets in trou­ble,” Quentin Kidd, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Vir­ginia’s Christo­pher New­port Univer­sity. “This may get worse and more un­com­fort­able be­fore it gets bet­ter — if it does get bet­ter.”

If Northam stepped down, Fair­fax would be­come the sec­ond AfricanAmer­i­can gov­er­nor in Vir­ginia his­tory. If all three Democrats re­signed, a Repub­li­can could be­come gov­er­nor: GOP House Speaker Kirk Cox is next in the line of suc­ces­sion.

Late last week, amid wide­spread calls for Fair­fax’s res­ig­na­tion, Demo­cratic Del. Pa­trick Hope, who is white, an­nounced plans to in­tro­duce ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment against the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor on Mon­day. But Hope re­lented, cit­ing both re­ac­tion from col­leagues and on­line ac­cu­sa­tions he is a racist.

Hours later, a group of eight black clergy and com­mu­nity lead­ers said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence that they for­give Northam and want to give him a sec­ond chance. For­mer Richmond City Coun­cil­man Henry “Chuck” Richard­son called Northam a “good and de­cent man” who has stood with African-Amer­i­cans on is­sues im­por­tant to them.

Sep­a­rately, a set of black lead­ers listed steps they said Northam and Her­ring should take to re­deem them­selves dur­ing their re­main­ing three years in of­fice, in­clud­ing re­mov­ing Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues and rais­ing more money for Vir­ginia’s his­tor­i­cally black col­leges.

“In our opin­ion, it is not enough for you to sim­ply apol­o­gize,” the black lead­ers said in a let­ter.

The Vir­ginia Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus did not with­draw its ear­lier call for Northam to re­sign. But the cau­cus chair­man, Del. La­mont Bagby, sig­naled a will­ing­ness to work with the gov­er­nor on is­sues of im­por­tance to black law­mak­ers.

“My cau­cus, I can tell you, they’re fired up to get this stuff done,” Bagby said.

Of the three politi­cians un­der fire, Her­ring ap­peared to be in the least danger of be­ing forced out. Black lead­ers have said they felt he earnestly apol­o­gized.

How­ever, in a sign of the dif­fi­cul­ties Fair­fax will face in stay­ing on the job, four of his staff mem­bers have re­signed.

In in­ter­views pub­lished Mon­day, Fair­fax re­peated his de­nials of the sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions by Mered­ith Wat­son and Vanessa Tyson, who have of­fered to tes­tify against him. The AP gen­er­ally does not iden­tify peo­ple who say they are vic­tims of sex­ual crimes, but both women have come for­ward.

STEVE HELBER/AP

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