Ralph Northam, Virginia governor, urged by Democrats to leave
Democrats over the weekend brushed aside Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s explanation and apology for a racist photo in his medical school yearbook and looked to a future where he would be replaced by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
Although Mr. Northam says he is staying in office, most Democrats are eager for him to disappear. They say the governor has damaged himself and lost voters’ confidence and that Mr. Fairfax, who is young and black, is the ideal replacement to get the party past this embarrassment.
From Virginia to Washington, party leaders said they were ready to move on.
“It’s time for Ralph Northam to step aside and let Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax serve Virginians as their next Governor. Justin is a dedicated public servant who is committed to building a brighter future for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement Saturday afternoon.
He opined just after Mr. Northam held one of the more unusual press conferences in modern political history, recanting his admission from just a day earlier that he was in a photo that appeared in his 1984 yearbook depicting one person dressed in a KKK costume next to someone in blackface.
Mr. Northam said he had, in fact, blackened his face to take part in a dance contest at about the same time as the photo was published. He then said he was certain he was not the one wearing blackface in the yearbook photo and that he didn’t know how the photo got onto his yearbook page.
“I have made mistakes in my life, but what caused this stir-up yesterday, I am not responsible for. That is not me in that photo,” he said. “That’s not me, that’s not who I am.”
Mr. Northam, 59, blamed his upbringing on Virginia’s Eastern Shore for his transgressions and said he was “not surprised by [the photo’s] appearance” on his yearbook page. But he said there is a difference between attempting to put shoe polish on his face to look like Michael Jackson and wearing blackface.
The governor said it would be too easy to quit instead he will stay so he can be the focus of a conversation about racism in Virginia.
He acknowledged his version of events over the photo was unlikely to be accepted.
That was indeed the case.
Former Virginia Delegate Michael Futrell, a Democrat, said the longer Mr. Northam stays in office, the more painful it will be for Virginia to unite behind Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who he said is ready to lead.
“I appreciate that nationally everybody understands that there is no place for this here,” Mr. Futrell told The Washington Times. “We can’t allow this to go unchecked.”
Democrats instead say Mr. Northam can add to the conversation about racism in America as a private citizen not from the governor’s mansion.
“What he should do is resign and then if he has any integrity at all he should participate in the conversation,” Rep. Karen Bass, California Democrat and chair of the Congressional Black Congress, told NBC.
The photo is one of four that appear on Mr. Northam’s yearbook page. He said he did submit the other three photos but doesn’t know the origin of the photo showing one person in blackface and another in the white robe and pointed hat of the Ku Klux Klan.
Eastern Virginia Medical School announced that it would investigate the yearbook, and Mr. Northam said he would try to get to the bottom of who was depicted in the blackface photo. He suggested the possible use of facial recognition technology.
The explanations and promises didn’t sway Democrats in the state General Assembly nor the Virginia Democratic Party, who said before and repeated after the governor’s press conference that Mr. Northam must go.
Part of the eagerness of Democrats may be their fear of electoral blowback. All 140 assembly seats are up for re-election in November, and having a tainted governor leading them into the campaign could be difficult.
By contrast, they are eager to have Mr. Fairfax lead them into the election.
No Virginia governor has left office early since the Civil War, which would make Mr. Northam’s departure, should it come to that, uncharted territory.
Nationally, Democrats’ presidential hopefuls have said they want Mr. Northam gone, but they also see an equivalency between the governor and President Trump.
“We have a president who is a racist,” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said that “racism cannot be excused.” Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California tweeted that “the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government.”
Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey, who announced his candidacy Friday morning on the first day of Black History Month said the images “arouse centuries of anger.”