Democrat National Committee chairman Tom Perez on Saturday called on Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) to resign after a photo surfaced of him and another individual wearing blackface and Ku Klux Klan attire.
Perez said in a statement:
I spoke with Governor Northam this morning. His past actions are completely antithetical to everything the Democratic Party stands for. Virginians and people across the country deserve better from their leaders, and it is clear that Ralph Northam has lost their trust and his ability to govern. The Democratic Party believes that diversity is our greatest strength and that hatred and racism have no place in our democracy. And we will never hesitate to hold accountable people who violate those values, regardless of their party affiliation.
Perez said the time had come for Northam to step down from his post to allow Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to serve as the state’s governor.
“Justin is a dedicated public servant who is committed to building a brighter future for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Perez’s statement concluded.
In a Saturday afternoon press conference, Northam denied appearing in a photo with men wearing blackface and KKK garb that was published in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical yearbook. The denial came after admitting on Friday evening that he was in the photo, which he described as “clearly racist and offensive.”
“Yesterday, I took responsibility for content that appeared on my page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook that was clearly racist and offensive,” Northam told reporters. “I am not and will not excuse the content of the photo. It was offensive, racist, and despicable.
“I stand by my statement of apology to the many Virginians who were hurt by seeing the content on a yearbook page that belongs to me,” he continued. “It is disgusting, it is offensive, it is racist, and it was my responsibility to recognize and prevent it from being published in the first place.”
However, during the press conference, Northam did admit that he once darkened his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume the same year the racist yearbook photo was published.
“My belief that I did not wear that costume or attend that party stems, in part, by my clear memory of other mistakes I made in the same period of my life,” he said. “That same year, I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume.”
“I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that,” he added. “It is because my memory of that episode is so vivid that I truly do not believe I am in the picture in my yearbook.”
Perez joins a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers demanding Northam step down from his post.
On Friday evening, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the state House Democratic Caucus and the state Senate Democratic Caucus called on the embattled governor to resign.
“But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as governor,” the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said in a statement. “It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing.”
A slew of Democratic presidential contenders also called on Northam to resign, including Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren. Possible 2020 contenders former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) did the same.
“Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government. The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together,” Harris wrote in a statement shared to Twitter.
“Gov. Northam should resign. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax should step in and begin a new day for Virginia,” Sanders said.