Virginia governor loses key support; future in doubt
RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam appears to have almost no choice but to resign after losing support from virtually every state Democrat and other key allies, who urged the governor to leave office because of a racist photo in which he appeared more than 30 years ago.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the state House Democratic Caucus and the state Senate Democratic Caucus all called on Northam to resign late Friday, along with several key progressive groups that have been some of the governor’s closest political allies.
Their calls for Northam to step down came in a wave late Friday, after the Democrat had apologized for appearing in a photo in which one person is dressed in blackface and another is wearing a full Ku Klux Klan uniform. The photo appeared in his 1984 medical school yearbook.
The yearbook images were first published Friday afternoon by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. The Virginian-Pilot later obtained a copy from Eastern Virginia Medical School, which Northam attended. The photo shows two people looking at the camera – one in blackface wearing a hat, bow tie and plaid pants; the other in a full Ku Klux Klan robe.
An Associated Press reporter saw the yearbook page and confirmed its authenticity at the medical school.
In his first apology, issued in a written statement, Northam called the costume he wore “clearly racist and offensive,” but he didn’t say which one he had worn.
He later issued a video statement saying he was “deeply sorry” but still committed to serving the “remainder of my term.”
“I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” Northam said.
A small number of protests stood outside the governor’s mansion Saturday to demand his resignation.
But Northam appears to have virtually no path forward to remain in office without any institutional support. His departure would mean current Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who is only the second African-American to win statewide office in Virginia, would be the next governor. Northam’s term was set to end in 2022.
Black lawmakers said they met with Northam Friday evening, and said in a statement they appreciate his service.
“But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as governor,” the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said, “It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing.”
State Sen. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, a close ally of Northam and longtime African-American lawmaker, said black leaders felt “mortally wounded” by the photo and that he has no option but to resign.
“He betrayed us,” she told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Others said there was no question he should step down. Among them: Democratic presidential hopefuls Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren; newly elected Democratic U.S. Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia; the NAACP and Planned Parenthood.
Northam spent years actively courting the black community in the lead up to his 2017 gubernatorial run, building relationships that helped him win both the primary and the general election. He’s a member of a predominantly black church on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where he grew up.
“It’s a matter of relationships and trust. That’s not something that you build overnight,” Northam told the AP during a 2017 campaign stop while describing his relationship with the black community. Northam, a folksy pediatric neurologist who is personal friends with many GOP lawmakers, has recently come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.
Last week, Florida’s secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.
— Associated Press writer Ben Finley contributed to this report.