Va. governor refuses to quit amid photo outcry
Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, facing pressure from his own party to resign, said Saturday he would not quit and denied that he had appeared in Ku Klux Klan robes or in blackface in images from his medical school yearbook that have upended his governorship.
“It was definitely not me,” Northam, a Democrat, told reporters at a news conference in the governor’s mansion. “I can tell by looking at it.”
Pressed on why he initially apologized, Northam said he had wanted to “take credit for recognizing that this was a horrific photo that was on my page with my name on it.”
The governor called the images, which first surfaced Friday afternoon, “offensive, racist and despicable.” But he said that
“I cannot in good conscience choose the path that would be easier for me to duck the responsibility to reconcile.”
But he may have made his effort to remain in office more difficult by revealing that he had darkened his face with shoe polish for a Michael Jackson costume in a dance contest in Texas in 1984, when he was a young Army officer.
“I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that,” he said.
Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus did not wait for the news conference to end before issuing a statement reaffirming its call for the governor to quit. Noting that Northam had initially said Friday that he was in the photograph, the group of legislators, who are all Democrats, said: “The damage that has been done by these revelations is irreparable.”
Others soon followed
with similar reactions. The Virginia Democratic Party said it stood by its call earlier Saturday for Northam to resign. And the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, also urged the governor to step aside.
By Saturday evening, both of Virginia’s senators – Democrats Tim Kaine and Mark Warner – had asked for Northam’s resignation, according to Associated Press reports.
Northam, 59, who was elected in 2017, asked Virginians for forgiveness and said he understood not all of the state’s citizens would believe him.
The governor’s refusal to resign plunged Virginia into political turmoil and created a crisis for national Democrats, who have assailed President Donald Trump for his demagoguery on racial issues and will not abide a prominent party member who is associated with emblems of bigotry.
With the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race getting underway, the pressure on Northam has been intense: The party’s White House hopefuls were some of the first officials to call on him to resign Friday night, beginning a cascade of demands that extended through Saturdaymorning when other potential Democratic candidates, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urged the governor to step down.
By the time he strode to a podium in the governor’s mansion, with portraits of Virginia’s founding fathers behind each shoulder, Northam was increasingly isolated. In phone calls Saturday morning, he said he had no recollection of the yearbook images.
In addition to calling state Democratic officials, Northam started calling former classmates at Eastern VirginiaMedical School in an effort to determine more information about the picture – and to survive a crisis that is threatening his year-old governorship, according to a Democrat familiar with Northam’s calls. This Democrat said the governor was determined to prove it was not him in the photograph and was even considering using facial recognition software.
At his news conference Saturday, Northam said that he had had a chance to sit down Friday night and look at the photo closely. He said he had also consulted with his family and friends, including a classmate who said that there were photo mix-ups on other pages in the yearbook. He said Saturday that he had not bought the yearbook and had never seen it.
But most state leaders said privately that Northam’s initial acknowledgment that he was in the photomade it all but impossible for him to remain in office because he had lost support from nearly all his allies in the state Capitol.
The 1984 yearbook page of Ralph Northam, now the governor of Virginia, shows a person dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and another wearing blackface.