Va. Capitol in chaos as pressure mounts on governor to resign
Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, abandoned by allies in the Democratic Party and besieged by demands that he resign, met with his Cabinet on Monday as state legislators returned to a Capitol thrown into chaos by the governor’s insistence on staying in office despite revelations that a photograph showing people in blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes was displayed on his medical school yearbook page.
But even after meeting Sunday night with a group of his African American aides, most of whom told him the only way he could clear his name would be to quit, Northam was giving no indication that he intended to step down.
As Northam dug in, his onetime allies in the state and national Democratic Party intensified their pleas that he quit, angry and embarrassed at the prospect of being saddled with a governor suddenly compromised by his past. While denying he posed in the racist costumes depicted in his 1984 yearbook — after initially acknowledging it — Northam admitted Saturday that in the same year he had used shoe polish to darken his face for aMichael Jacksonthemed costume at a dance party.
Stunned state legislators arrived Monday for their weekly session uncertain who would be governor by the end of the day. Swarmed by reporters, Kirk Cox, the Republican speaker of the House of Delegates who has called on the governor to quit, said that he did not want to pursue impeachment against Northam and that it was uncertain if the matter met the threshold for impeaching him.
Cox’s remarks heartened Northam’s advisers, who said Monday that the governor is intent on remaining in office and attempting to somehow prove that he was not in the photograph.
But the governor, already isolated from Virginia’s political leaders, was fast becoming a pariah outside Richmond, too, after a wave of top Democratic leaders, including most of the contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination, called on him to resign.
The turmoil enveloping the state only grew when, at 2:55 a.m. Monday, aides to Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who would succeed Northam were he to resign, issued an extraordinary statement denying an online report that the lieutenant governor had once committed sexual assault.
“He has never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape or form,” said two of Fairfax’s top staff members. They were responding to an accusation published late Sunday that in 2004 he sexually assaulted a woman while at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
The fallout from the revelations about Northam spread beyond the political realm, as the governor and William & Mary agreed that he would not attend the formal inauguration of its president Friday.
“That behavior has no place in civil society — not 35 years ago, not today,” said Katherine Rowe, president of the university, Virginia’s oldest institution of higher learning. “It has become clear,” she added, “that the governor’s presence would fundamentally disrupt the sense of campus unity we aspire to and hope for with this event.”
Demonstrators march near the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond on Monday as Gov. Ralph Northam met with his Cabinet.
Gov. Ralph Northam