Northam and Fairfax still won’t resign over scandals
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.
Embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam attended the funeral of a state trooper Saturday in Chilhowie, Va.