Democrats maintain pressure on Virginia governor to resign

Back to Article
Back to Article

Democrats maintain pressure on Virginia governor to resign

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

By Kim Chipman and Susan Decker

Bloomberg News


WASHINGTON — Leading Democrats continued on Feb. 3 to call for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to resign because of a racist photo from a 1984 medical-school yearbook, even as he has said he won’t quit.

Northam stood his ground at a news conference Feb. 2 in Richmond to address what he earlier called a “clearly racist and offensive” photograph on his medical-school yearbook page from 1984 that surfaced Feb. 1.

“I am not the person in the photo that caused a stir yesterday,” Northam said. “That’s not me in that photo.”

The denial did not silence calls for the governor to quit.

Democrats — including some presidential candidates, his home state’s Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and former Vice President Joe Biden — earlier called on Northam to resign, as did many Republicans. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both former governors of Virginia, and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., added to the calls for Northam to quit after watching the news conference. President Donald Trump also weighed in.

On Feb. 3, Democrats including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, both of whom are considering running for president in 2020, continued to call for Northam to step down.

“Ralph will do the right thing for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He will put Virginia first, and I think that will happen relatively soon.”

Northam did get support from former Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who said there’s a risk of rushing to judgment before all the facts are known and that redemption should be considered. “I believe in second chances,” Moran said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The photograph in question, one of four on a page from Northam’s yearbook at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, was published Feb. 1 by the conservative website Big League Politics. It shows a person wearing blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Other photos on the page are of a young Northam in a cowboy hat, one of him seated before a convertible, and a formal headshot.

Northam, standing by his wife, Pam, said he believed it was possible some photographs in the yearbook had been switched. He said he’d never bought or looked at the yearbook before Feb. 1, was in the military during school, and was doing rotations, so didn’t participate in the publication.

Northam said he recalled — and regretted — using shoe polish to darken his face to dress up as pop star Michael Jackson in 1984 for a dance contest in San Antonio, Texas. The “memory of that is so vivid,” he said, that he would have remembered having been in blackface at a party at the medical school. He said he’s never worn a KKK costume.

“My personal history mirrors that of this commonwealth,” he said. “In the place and time where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognize as abhorrent today were commonplace.”

Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, and the state has struggled to move beyond that legacy. The state has a holiday for Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson that’s held on the weekend before a national holiday commemorating civil-rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1984, when the yearbook was published, black activist Jesse Jackson won the state’s Democratic primary for president, and voters in 1990 elected the state’s first black governor, Douglas Wilder. The current lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, is only the second African-American elected to statewide office in Virginia.

Northam said earlier he was “deeply sorry” about the decision he made decades ago to pose for a “clearly racist and offensive” picture, without indicating which person was him. Later, though, he told friends and lawmakers he didn’t think he was in the photo.

Northam said on Feb. 2 that there were “numerous photos” of people in blackface in the yearbook “and none of them were me.”

Richard Homan, the medical school’s president, said in a statement posted on the school’s website that the photo “shockingly abhorrent and absolutely antithetical to the principles, morals, and values we hold” and said it was a “time for self-reflection and humility” for the Norfolk-based school. He said the school was convening an “urgent meeting” of senior leadership and board members.

The appearance of the photo immediately sparked criticism from several Democrats running for president. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro all called for Northam to resign.

The Congressional Black Caucus, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, and the NAACP said Northam’s press conference did little to change their position.

The legislative caucus said it had a “direct and honest” meeting with Northam earlier in the day. It issued a statement after the news conference to “amplify our call for the governor to resign.”

Northam’s admission of blackening his face for a dance contest is an “example of the historical effects of institutional racism and the lack of awareness of the discrimination” against black people, the NAACP said.


(Mark Niquette, Ben Livesey, Sarah Kopit and Hailey Waller contributed to this report.)


©2019 Bloomberg News

Visit Bloomberg News at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.