Politics & Policy

Northam Tells Staff He Won’t Resign over Racist Yearbook Photo

Virginia governor Ralph Northam speaks during a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2019. (Jay Paul/Reuters)

During a cabinet meeting Friday afternoon, Virginia governor Ralph Northam told his staff that he will not resign despite the overwhelming condemnation he’s received from fellow Democrats this week following the emergence of a racist photo on his 1984 medical-school-yearbook page, according to the Associated Press.

The yearbook photo, which depicts one man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan uniform, was first published on Friday by the right-wing website Big League Politics. Immediately following its publication, Northam admitted to appearing in the photo and apologized for the harm it caused his constituents. Then, during a Saturday afternoon press conference, Northam backtracked, denying that he appeared in the photo but admitting to darkening his face on another occasion while he was in college.

In the wake of the press conference, prominent national and state Democrats urged Northam to resign, arguing he had lost the public’s trust.

Northam’s potential resignation was complicated this week by the emergence of sexual-assault allegations against Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax, who would succeed Northam in the event of his resignation. Fairfax has admitted to engaging in a consensual sexual encounter with one accuser, Vanessa Tyson, in a hotel room at the 2004 Democratic National Convention but denied Tyson’s assault allegation. In a statement released Friday, a second woman accused Fairfax of raping her while they were undergraduates at Duke University in 2000. Fairfax immediately denied that allegation as well and said he would not resign in comments to reporters.

Virginia attorney general Mark Herring, who is behind Fairfax in the line of succession, also admitted this week to wearing blackface to a party while he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia in 1980.

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