Northam and Fair­fax still won’t re­sign over scan­dals

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION - By Alan Su­d­er­man

RICHMOND, Va. — Calls were mount­ing for Vir­ginia’s lieu­tenant gov­er­nor to re­sign Satur­day, at the tail end of an as­ton­ish­ing week that saw the state’s top three elected of­fi­cials — all Democrats — em­broiled in po­ten­tially ca­reer-end­ing scan­dals fraught with ques­tions of race, sex, and power.

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 racist photo — was bar­raged with de­mands to step down from top Democrats, in­clud­ing a num­ber of pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls and most of Vir­ginia’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion.

Northam, now a year into his four-year term, an­nounced his in­ten­tion to stay 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 a racist photo on his 1984 med­i­cal school year­book sur­faced and he ac­knowl­edged wear­ing black­face in the 1980s.

On Satur­day, Northam made his first of­fi­cial pub­lic ap­pear­ance since he de­nied be­ing in the photo. He at­tended the fu­neral for a state trooper killed in a shootout. He made no pub­lic com­ments and wasn’t listed as a speaker in the fu­neral pro­gram.

But in his first in­ter­view since the scan­dal over the photo erupted, Northam told The Wash­ing­ton Post on Satur­day that the up­roar has forced him to grap­ple with the state’s deep and lin­ger­ing racial di­vide and his in­sen­si­tiv­ity to it. He 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.

“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.

Northam re­peated his con­tention that he is not the one pic­tured on his year­book page in black­face, but could not ex­plain how it wound up there or why he had taken re­spon­si­bil­ity for it.

“I over­re­acted,” he said. “If I had it to do over again, I would step back and take a deep breath.”

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.

The state­ment said it was a “pre­med­i­tated and ag­gres­sive” as­sault and that while Wat­son and Fair­fax had been so­cial friends, they were never in­volved romantically.

The lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, said her team had state­ments from ex-class­mates who said Wat­son “im­me­di­ately” told friends Fair­fax raped her. A pub­lic re­la­tions firm rep­re­sent­ing Wat­son pro­vided The As­so­ci­ated Press with a 2016 email ex­change with a fe­male friend and 2017 text ex­changes in which Wat­son said Fair­fax had raped her.

Wat­son’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­clined to pro­vide fur­ther doc­u­men­ta­tion and said their client would not talk to jour­nal­ists.

Fair­fax de­nied the new al­le­ga­tion, as he did the first, lev­eled ear­lier by Vanessa Tyson, a Cal­i­for­nia col­lege pro­fes­sor who said Fair­fax forced her to per­form oral sex on him at a Bos­ton ho­tel in 2004.

“It is ob­vi­ous that a vi­cious and co­or­di­nated smear cam­paign is be­ing or­ches­trated against me,” Fair­fax said. “I will not re­sign.”

Duke cam­pus po­lice have no crim­i­nal re­ports nam­ing Fair­fax, spokesman Michael Schoen­feld said.

STEVE HELBER/AP

Em­bat­tled Vir­ginia Gov. Ralph Northam at­tended the fu­neral of a state trooper Satur­day in Chil­howie, Va.

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