Former Virginia Democrat Gov. Doug Wilder, who was the first elected black governor in American history, criticized Gov. Ralph Northam on Saturday for a photo of him either in blackface or in Ku Klux Klan attire but did not call for him to resign.
A photo of Northam’s medical school yearbook, which featured two men–one in blackface and the other in Ku Klux Klan (KKK) attire–has resurfaced, sparking controversy. Northam admitted in a statement to appearing in the photo but did not say whether he was in blackface or in KKK attire.
Numerous politicians such as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and progressive groups such as MoveOn have called for Northam to resign in the wake of the photo’s discovery.
Wilder, who was the first black American to get elected governor, released a statement on Saturday that criticized Northam’s incendiary photo but did not call for his resignation.
Wilder wrote, “It has never been right, in Virginia, nor anywhere else to participate in or condone such mockery or insensitive behavior and for that Gov. Northam should be criticized.”
“This is not about politics or personal relationships, this is about government ‘of the people, for the people and by the people’ – ALL of the people,” Wilder added. “The choice of his continuing in office is his to make”:
This is not about politics or personal relationships, this is about government “of the people, for the people and by the people” – ALL of the people.
The choice of his continuing in office is his to make. 3/3
— L. Douglas Wilder (@GovernorWilder) February 2, 2019
During the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial campaign, Wilder refused to endorse Northam for governor. Wilder blamed Northam for a campaign flier that excluded then-lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Justin Fairfax, who is black. Fairfax’s exclusion drew outrage from liberal and progressive Virginia Democrat groups. Democracy for America denounced the Ralph Northam campaign for the campaign flier faux pas.
“If I’m the candidate for governor, I’m responsible for whatever takes place in my campaign,” Wilder said in November 2017.
Quentin James, the founder of Collective PAC, a group that supports progressive black candidates, including Fairfax, alleged that the move to exclude Fairfax from the campaign flier smelled of “subtle racism.”
James said in November 2017, “It reeks of subtle racism, if not a tone-deafness about how we are going to win in November. Leaving Justin Fairfax off … even if it’s only for a small universe of union members, still sends the wrong message.”
When asked about Wilder’s lack of endorsement for Northam, the gubernatorial candidate could not explain why he did not endorse him for governor.