“This likely ends Northam’s political career”: Governor has no plans to resign amid fallout from racist photo

Photo by Erin Edgerton.

Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

Across the political spectrum, government officials and advocacy groups are calling for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation after media reports of a racist photo on his page in a college yearbook.

The photo, from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook, features two men — one dressed in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan robe. On Friday, Northam apologized for the photo. On Saturday, he said it was not him in the picture after all and that he would not resign.

Ravi Perry, chair of VCU’s political science department, noted the timing of the developments, and said it likely spells the end for the beleaguered governor.

“On the first day of black history month, we learn that our governor — while an adult — in 1984, dressed in racist blackface or KKK paraphernalia,” Perry said. “This likely ends Northam’s political career.”

Perry said Northam has had multiple opportunities to apologize for the comments, including during his decade serving in office.

“That he chose not to time and time again suggests his character is unbecoming of an elected office,” Perry said.

The VCU Young Democrats condemned the photo. In a statement, the group called the photo racist.

“Acts of white supremacy are unacceptable from any citizen, but especially when they come from those elected to represent us.” the statement read. “Governor Northam must answer for this bigotry, and face the appropriate consequences.”

Calls for Northam’s resignation began Friday night and continued over the weekend. They came from both sides of the aisle, including Virginia Democrats, House and Senate Republican leaders and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

“When the racist picture first emerged Friday, we were shocked and repulsed. The photo is disturbing and offensive, as unacceptable in 1984 as it is today,” said a statement issued by House Speaker Kirk Cox and other Republicans.

“While we respect the governor’s lifetime of service, his ability to lead and govern is permanently impaired and the interests of the commonwealth necessitate his resignation.”

Democratic leaders agreed.

Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia, issued a statement Saturday calling for Northam’s immediate resignation.

“We made the decision to let Gov. Northam do the correct thing and resign this morning — we have gotten word he will not do so this morning. We stand with Democrats across Virginia and the country calling him to immediately resign. He no longer has our confidence or our support.”

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe denounced the photo on Twitter, calling the photos “racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age an any time.” He said Northam should resign, deeming the situation “untenable.”

On Saturday afternoon, Attorney General Mark Herring said, “It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our commonwealth and it is time for him to step down.”

More than a dozen progressive groups — including Planned Parenthood, Equality Virginia and environmental and labor organizations — called on Northam to leave office in a statement, following his press conference Saturday.

“We heard what the Governor said today and we are not only unmoved but even more disgusted in his actions and changing stories,” the statement read. “We reaffirm our demand that he must immediately resign.”

New Virginia Majority, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Progress Virginia are among other groups that have called for Northam to step down.

“No matter the era, or the messenger, blackface costumes and Ku Klux Klan regalia have represented terror and fear for communities of color since Reconstruction,” said Harrison Wallace, Virginia director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in a statement. “There is no excuse for wearing them.”

The Commonwealth Times reporter Mary McLean contributed to this report.

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