Em­bat­tled gover­nor ‘not go­ing any­where’

Northam says his moral­ity makes him right man to lead.

Dayton Daily News - - NATION & WORLD - By Alan Suderman

Vir­ginia’s RICH­MOND, VA. — Demo­cratic Gov. Ralph Northam con­sid­ered re­sign­ing amid a scan­dal that he once wore black­face, but the pe­di­atric neu­rol­o­gist said Sun­day that he’s “not go­ing any­where” be­cause the state “needs some­one that can heal” it.

Northam made the com­ments on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion,” say­ing it’s been a dif­fi­cult week since a racist photo in his 1984 med­i­cal school year­book sur­faced, show­ing a per­son wear­ing black­face next to a sec­ond per­son wear­ing a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Northam ini­tially said he was the one in black­face, but then de­nied it the next day, while ac­knowl­edg­ing that he did wear black­face to a dance party that same year.

“Vir­ginia needs some­one that can heal. There’s no bet­ter per­son to do that than a doc­tor,” Northam said. “Vir­ginia also needs some­one who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral com­pass. And that’s why I’m not go­ing any­where.”

Northam’s po­lit­i­cal tur­moil comes as the two other top Democrats in the state face their own po­ten­tially ca­reer-end­ing scan­dals, with al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fair­fax — Northam’s suc­ces­sor if the gover­nor were to re­sign — and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring ac­knowl­edg­ing that he wore black­face at a party in 1980. Her­ring would be­come gover­nor if both Northam and Fair­fax re­signed.

The scan­dals have be­come a full-blown cri­sis for Vir­ginia Democrats. Although the party has taken an al­most zero-tol­er­ance ap­proach to mis­con­duct among its mem­bers in this #MeToo era, a house­clean­ing in Vir­ginia could be costly: If all three Democrats re­signed, Repub­li­can state House Speaker Kirk Cox would be­come gover­nor.

The scan­dals also could hurt the Democrats’ chances of flip­ping con­trol of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly. All 140 leg­isla­tive seats will be up for grabs in Novem­ber and Democrats had pre­vi­ously been hope­ful that voter an­tipa­thy to­ward Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump would help them ce­ment Vir­ginia’s sta­tus as a blue state. Now many fret their cur­rent cri­sis in lead­er­ship will not only cost them chances of win­ning GOP-held seats, but also sev­eral seats cur­rently held by Democrats.

Two women al­lege Fair­fax sex­u­ally as­saulted them, and both have of­fered to tes­tify if an im­peach­ment hear­ing were called against him. The lieu­tenant gover­nor is­sued a state­ment Satur­day again deny­ing he ever sex­u­ally as­saulted any­one and mak­ing clear he does not in­tend to im­me­di­ately step down. In­stead, he urged au­thor­i­ties to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions against him.

Her­ring has apol­o­gized for ap­pear­ing in black­face — an ad­mis­sion he made af­ter ru­mors be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing at the Capi­tol — but has not in­di­cated he would re­sign ei­ther, de­spite his ini­tially force­ful call for Northam to step down.

Asked Sun­day for his opin­ion on his sub­or­di­nates, Northam said in the CBS in­ter­view that it’s up to Fair­fax and Her­ring to de­cide

‘Vir­ginia needs some­one that can heal. There’s no bet­ter per­son to do that than a doc­tor.’ Ralph Northam Vir­ginia’s Demo­cratic gover­nor

whether they want to re­main in of­fice. He said he sup­ports Fair­fax’s call for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions. Of Her­ring, he said that “just like me, he has grown.”

Demo­cratic Del. Pa­trick Hope said he wants to in­tro­duce ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment against Fair­fax on Mon­day, but Hope is not a pow­er­ful fig­ure and there’s lit­tle sign there’s a broad ap­petite for im­peach­ment with this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion over by the end of the month.

If a hear­ing did occur, at­tor­neys for both of the women ac­cus­ing Fair­fax — Mered­ith Wat­son and Vanessa Tyson — say they would be will­ing to tes­tify. The As­so­ci­ated Press does not gen­er­ally name vic­tims of al­leged sex­ual as­sault, but both women have come for­ward vol­un­tar­ily.

Wat­son al­leges that Fair­fax raped her while they were stu­dents at Duke Univer­sity in 2000, her at­tor­ney said in a state­ment. Tyson, a Cal­i­for­nia col­lege pro­fes­sor, al­leges that Fair­fax forced her to per­form oral sex on him at a Bos­ton ho­tel in 2004.

While deny­ing the al­le­ga­tions, Fair­fax called on au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing the FBI, to con­duct a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Frankly, we re­ally want any en­tity with com­pre­hen­sive in­ves­tiga­tive power to thor­oughly look into these ac­cu­sa­tions,” Fair­fax spokes­woman Lau­ren Burke said. “There needs to be ver­i­fi­ca­tion of ba­sic facts about these al­le­ga­tions. It feels like some­thing big­ger is go­ing on here.”

Northam’s pledge Sun­day to work on heal­ing the state’s racial di­vide was the sec­ond he made in as many days. In his first in­ter­view since the scan­dal erupted, a chas­tened gover­nor 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 Ex­ec­u­tive Man­sion. “There are still some very deep wounds in Vir­ginia, and es­pe­cially in the area of eq­uity.”

Also Satur­day, Northam made his first of­fi­cial pub­lic ap­pear­ance since he de­nied be­ing in the photo, at­tend­ing the fu­neral for a state trooper killed in a shootout. But he made no pub­lic com­ments.

STEVE HELBER / AP

Gov. Ralph Northam watches as the cas­ket of fallen Vir­ginia State Trooper Lu­cas B. Dow­ell is car­ried to a wait­ing tac­ti­cal ve­hi­cle Satur­day dur­ing the fu­neral at the Chil­howie Chris­tian Church in Chil­howie. Dow­ell was killed in the line of duty ear­lier in the week. It was Northam’s first pub­lic ap­pear­ance in a week.

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