Virginian pledges healing
Won’t resign, governor says; state’s No. 2 also rejects calls to quit.
RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia’s governor pledged to work at healing the state’s racial divide Saturday, even as calls mounted for the lieutenant governor to resign — capping an astonishing week that saw all three of the state’s top elected officials embroiled in potentially career-ending scandals.
Two women have accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, and he has emphatically denied both allegations. After the second allegation was made Friday, Fairfax — who stands to become the state’s second black governor if Gov. Ralph Northam resigns over a racially offensive photo — was barraged with demands to step down from top Democrats, including a number of presidential hopefuls and most of Virginia’s congressional delegation.
Fairfax issued a statement Saturday again denying the allegations and saying his encounters with the women were consensual. He made clear he is not immediately resigning and called for “space in this moment for due process.”
He’s also calling for authorities, including the FBI, to investigate.
Meanwhile, Northam — now a year into his four-year term — announced his intention to stay in office at a Friday afternoon Cabinet meeting, according to a senior official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
In so doing, Northam defied practically the entire Democratic Party, which rose up against him after the offensive photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page surfaced and he acknowledged wearing blackface in the 1980s.
In his first interview since the scandal broke out, Northam told The Washington Post on Saturday that the uproar has pushed him to confront the state’s deep and lingering divisions over race, as well as his own insensitivity. But he said that reflection has convinced him that, by remaining in office, he can work to resolve them.
“It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do,” Northam said in the interview, conducted at the Governor’s Mansion. “There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity.”
Northam said he planned to work for the rest of his term to address issues stemming from inequality, including improving access to health care, housing and transportation. He also repeated his contention that he is not the one pictured on his yearbook page in blackface. But he could not explain how it wound up there, or why he had taken responsibility for it.
Moments after Northam’s Friday meeting with his Cabinet, a second woman went public with accusations against Fairfax. A lawyer for Meredith Watson, 39, said in a statement that Fairfax raped Watson 19 years ago while they were students at Duke University.
Vanessa Tyson, a California college professor, earlier said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him at a Boston hotel in 2004.
Fairfax has denied both allegations and on Saturday asked that “no one rush to judgment.”
“Our American values don’t just work when it’s convenient — they must be applied at the most difficult of times,” he said.
Duke campus police have no criminal reports naming Fairfax, university spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said. Durham police spokesman Wil Glenn also said he couldn’t find a report in the department’s system on the 2000 allegation.
Top Democrats running for president in 2020 have called for Fairfax’s resignation, including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia said Fairfax should resign if the allegations against him were true.
The Virginia Black Legislative Caucus joined calls for Fairfax’s departure. And a Democratic member of the state House, Del. Patrick Hope, said he intends to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax on Monday if Fairfax hasn’t left by then.
An attorney for Watson released a statement Saturday, saying her client would be willing to testify at an impeachment hearing.
On Saturday, Virginia’s House Speaker Kirk Cox joined the chorus calling for Fairfax’s resignation. Cox — a Republican, and third in line for governor should Northam step down — said in a statement that Fairfax’s ability to govern has been “permanently impaired” by the “multiple, serious credible allegations” of sexual assault.
The Democratic Party of Virginia also called Saturday for Fairfax’s resignation. In a statement, party chairman Susan Swecker said the allegations against Fairfax are serious and credible and make clear he “can no longer fulfill the duties and responsibilities of his post.”
“There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Saturday in Richmond.