Va. gov­er­nor re­fuses to quit amid photo out­cry

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Insight - BY JONATHAN MARTIN, TRIP GABRIEL AND ALAN BLINDER New York Times

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.

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