In his first one-on-one interview with a news organization since being entrenched in controversy and bombarded with calls to resign after a racist yearbook photo surfaced a week ago, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is doubling down on his refusal to resign and says he’ll focus the remainder of his term on combating racial inequities in the state.
“It’s been a horrific week for Virginia. A lot of individuals across Virginia have been hurt,” Northam told The Washington Post.
But he showed no intent to resign, despite Democrats at the local, state and national level urging him to step aside. Instead, Northam told The Post he planned to embark on a “reconciliation tour” across the state to speak with Virginians about race and healing, though he did not reveal precise details.
“I really do believe there’s a calling for all of us, and the fact that this happened this year” –on the 400th anniversary of Africans arriving in Virginia— “I think there’s a reason for that,” he said.
Democrats and civil rights groups have pleaded with the governor to resign amid backlash over a picture of two people—one in blackface and one in a KKK costume—appearing on his medical school yearbook page decades ago.
Originally, Northam apologized for the photo, but less than 24 hours later made a 180 degree turn during a press conference to say neither of the people pictured were him. He did admit that he “darkened” his face with “a little bit of shoe polish” to appear as Michael Jackson for a dance performance in San Antonio around the same time.
Questions were immediately raised as to how the picture appeared under his name and why he would take responsibility for the image only to offer a denial a short time later.
“I overreacted. If I had it to do over I would step back and take a deep breath,” he told The Post. “The things that I did back in medical school and – and – in San Antonio were insensitive and I have learned since that they were very offensive. We learn from our mistakes and I’m a stronger person.”
Northam also said he is not decided on a possible replacement for Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, should he heed calls to resign in light of two women alleging he sexually assaulted them some years ago. Fairfax is the man next in line to the governorship if Northam were to resign. A Democratic state lawmaker says he plans to file articles of impeachment against Fairfax if he does not resign by Monday. Still, the lieutenant governor continues to refuse because he says the allegations against him are not true.
But Virginia Democrats’ problems don’t stop there. Third in line to be governor is Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who earlier this week admitted to wearing blackface at a college party in 1980. Herring himself called for Northam to resign after he denied appearing in the racist yearbook picture.
“It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity,” Northam said. “There are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entrepreneurship. And so, this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so, we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”