Virginia governor to speak amid mounting calls to resign over racist photo
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is holding a press conference Saturday to address a racist photograph from his medical school. He is expected to make a statement to the media at 2:30 p.m. ET.
The photo shows two people — one who appears to be wearing blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume. Northam said Friday he is pictured in the photo.
Northam hasfrom Republicans and Democrats to resign. A statement from the Virginia Democratic Party released Saturday morning indicates that he may not do so.
“We made the decision to let Governor Northam do the correct thing and resign this morning – we have gotten word he will not do so this morning,” the statement from Chairwoman Susan Swecker said.
The yearbook page, which was first published on the conservative news site Big League Politics, is from the 1984 East Virginia Medical School yearbook. Northam, a pediatrician, graduated that year.
A caption for the photo reads: “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer.” A reporter from CBS News affiliate News 3, Brendan Ponton, went to the Eastern Virginia Medical School library in Norfolk and found the page on which the photo appears.
Northam released a statement Friday afternoon apologizing, saying, “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.”
“This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment,” Northam said. “I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor.”
CBS News also uncovered a page from Northam’s yearbook at the Virginia Military Institute that listed nicknames underneath his name. One of them was “Coonman,” a racial slur.
Despite his apology, Northam has faced widespread calls to step down.
“Gov. Northam should resign, this type of character flaw is unacceptable for any elected official seeking the support of the Black vote,” Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement. “It’s sad but eerily prophetic this revelation came during Black History Month; but while we uplift the current and historical achievements of African Americans, we must also acknowledge the extent to which racism is a part of our history in America.”
Several prominent black political figures deemed Northam’s apology insufficient, including Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Karen Bass and House Democratic Caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries.
“Ralph Northam served in our nation’s military, treated thousands of families as a medical doctor, and had the audacity to ask for Black votes when he wanted to become governor, yet never once mentioned that he thought it was ok to be in black face or dressed as a Klansman,” Bass said in a statement. “An apology now isn’t enough. The governor needs to learn that it’s not about what you do once you’re caught. Instead, it’s about the things you do when you think no one is watching.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden called on him to resign immediately in a tweet Saturday. Several Democratic presidential candidates urged Northam to step down, too. Statements ensued from Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Julián Castro and John Delaney.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is only the second black man to hold statewide office in Virginia history, would become governor if Northam resigns. Fairfax is a 39-year-old former attorney who made national news last month for sitting out a ceremony celebrating the birthday of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The descendant of slaves, Fairfax said celebrating Lee’s birthday was “hurtful,” according to The Washington Post.