In a stunning reversal, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) now says he does not believe he appears in a photo which shows two individuals in blackface and KKK uniform and has no immediate plans to resign, according to a Virginia Democrat who spoke to the embattled lawmaker, the Associated Press reports. On Friday evening, Northam acknowledged he was in the photo, yet declined to reveal which attire he wore.
The Democrat, who said they were “not authorized” to speak publically on the matter, told the news outlet that Northam is phoning state lawmakers Saturday in an attempt to shore up support that has all but evaporated the prior evening.
Northam has faced a torrent of criticism and calls for his resignation after a photo surfaced from decades ago that showed two people in racist costumes: One person is dressed in blackface, and another is wearing a full Ku Klux Klan uniform. The photo appeared in Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook.
However, former political allies say Northam appears to have almost no choice but to resign after losing support from virtually the entire state Democratic party and other key allies, who late Friday urged the governor to leave office because of the racist photo.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the state House Democratic Caucus, and the state Senate Democratic Caucus all called on Northam to resign, along with several key progressive groups that have been some of the governor’s closest political allies.
Their calls for Northam to step down came in a wave late Friday after the Democrat had apologized for appearing in a photo in which one person is dressed in blackface and another is wearing a full Ku Klux Klan uniform. The photo appeared in his 1984 medical school yearbook.
The yearbook images were first published Friday afternoon by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. The Virginian-Pilot later obtained a copy from Eastern Virginia Medical School, which Northam attended. The photo shows two people looking at the camera — one in blackface wearing a hat, bow tie and plaid pants; the other in a full Ku Klux Klan robe.
In his first apology, issued in a written statement, Northam called the costume he wore “clearly racist and offensive,” but he didn’t say which one he had worn.
He later issued a video statement saying he was “deeply sorry” but still committed to serving the “remainder of my term.”
“I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” Northam said.
But Northam appears to have virtually no path forward to remain in office without any institutional support. His departure would mean current Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who is only the second African American to win statewide office in Virginia, would be the next governor. Northam’s term was set to end in 2022.
Black lawmakers said they met with Northam Friday evening and said in a statement they appreciate his service.
“But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as governor,” the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said, “It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing.”
Several Democrat presidential hopefuls, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have called on Northam to jettison his post. “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 said in a statement.
Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (D-VA) condemned Northam, calling the photo “racist” and “deeply offensive,” — however — the pair stopped short of calling on him to resign. The racist photo of Governor Northam’s 1984 yearbook is horrible. This causes pain in a state and a country where centuries of racism have already left an open wound,” said Kaine. “I hope the Governor–whose career as an Army officer, pediatrician and public official has always manifested a commitment to justice and equality for all–now takes the time to listen to those he has hurt and reflect on how to move forward.”
In a separate statement, Warner described the photo as “shocking and deeply offensive,” citing Virginia’s “long and painful history of racism and violence toward African-Americans.”
“The Governor must now listen to the people and communities he has hurt, and carefully consider what comes next,” he concluded.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.