Northam calls ‘urgent meeting’ amid calls for resignation
RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Condemnation is coming from far and wide for Gov. Ralph Northam after a photo the governor himself called “clearly racist” surfaced Friday.
The backlash comes after Northam, a Democrat, admitted to wearing a racist costume in a photo showing someone in blackface and another person in a KKK robe. in a 1984 yearbook photo.
Calls for Northam’s resignation have come both from state and national leaders, and from within his own party.
Virginia House Democrats called for Northam’s resignation saying, "We regret to say that we are no longer confident in the Governor’s representation of Virginians. Though it brings us no joy to do so, we must call for Governor Northam’s resignation.”
After Northam declined to resign, the Virginia House Democrats issued another statement saying, “We continue to echo the calls of our colleagues in the Legislative Black Caucus for the Governor to resign. Regardless of the Governor’s account of whether or not he was in the photo, he has lost the trust of constituents and elected officials. A leader must have the confidence of the people in order to effectively govern, and unfortunately, that is no longer the case for Governor Northam.”
A source confirmed to NBC News that Gov. Northam convened an “urgent meeting” Sunday night with top staff and administration officials of color to discuss the path forward as he continues to deal with calls for his resignation from party officials both in and out of state. The source also says Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax was not present at the meeting.
This photo emerged on the first day of Black History Month with a post by the right wing blog Big League Politics, immediately drawing national attention. While people on both sides of the aisle are calling for him to resign, Northam has issued both a written and a video apology hinting that he will not step down.
Both Virginia senators, themselves being both fellow Democrats and former Virginia governors, initially condemned the image, but stopped short of asking him to resign.
Sen. Tim Kaine told CNN, “The racist photo from 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. 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.”
Sen. Mark Warner said, “This photo is shocking and deeply offensive, all the more so because of 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.”
Later Saturday, Kaine, along with Congressman Bobby Scott and Senator Mark Warner, both Democrats, later released a joint statement urging Northam to step down.
In a video statement sent out through the governor’s social media, Northam did not address the calls for his resignation, but iterated his intention to remain in office.
“I have spent the past year as your governor fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people. I am committed to continuing that fight through the remainder of my term,” Northam said. "That photo and the racist and offensive attitudes it represents does not reflect that person I am today or the way I have conducted myself as a soldier, a doctor and a public servant. I’m deeply sorry.”
Earlier, Northam apologized for appearing in what he called a “clearly racist and offensive” costume his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, but did not specify whether he is the one dressed in blackface or a KKK robe.
The Eastern Virginia Medical School released the a statement addressing the yearbook photo.
“We share the outrage, alarm and sadness voiced by our alumni, the press and many on social media regarding the picture published in the 1984 student yearbook. The picture is shockingly abhorrent and absolutely antithetical to the principles, morals and values we hold and espouse of our educational and research institution and our professions. Racism and discrimination in any form is not acceptable,” EVMS President and Provost Richard V. Homan said.
Once the photo surfaced, Virginia’s Republican leaders and even Democratic Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney called for an explanation. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus says, “We feel complete betrayal.”
Now calls for Northam’s resignation come from both sides of the aisle, including national NAACP leader Derrick Johnson, and Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia Jack Wilson, and the Republican Governor’s Association.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has also joined the calls for his resignation.
Stoney later amended his statement saying Northam should do the “honorable thing” and resign.
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, whom Northam succeeded as governor, said he should step down because, “The situation that he has put himself and the Commonwealth of Virginia in is untenable.”
Democratic Congressman Donald McEachin praised Northam’s work, but said the “stain on our commonwealth” was too great for him to continue as governor.
“I ask the governor to step aside,” McEachin said. “While I acknowledge his efforts on behalf of all Virginians and the good he has done as a senator, as our lietenant governor and now as governor, Virginians have too much to overcome and too much healing yet in front of us.”
Freshman Democratic congressman Abigail Spanberger also said Northam should step down, calling the image “appalling” and “unacceptable.”
Republican congressman Rob Wittman said Saturday’s press conference confirmed the concerns he had when the photo first surfaced, and said his past actions are “disturbing” and “go against the American values that we fight to uphold.”
“The bigotry depicted in this photograph is appalling. There should always be serious consequences for actions that demean, intimidate, or threaten our African-American communities," Spanberger said. "Such conduct is unacceptable for any Virginian, whether occurring in the past, present, or future. Governor Northam must resign and fully acknowledge the painful past these images evoke. Bigotry has no place in Virginia.”
But Democratic House Minority Leader Dick Saslaw defended Northam, saying, “His whole life has been exactly the opposite and that’s what you need to examine.”
Social media has also been buzzing about Northam’s 1981 VMI yearbook photo, listing a racist nickname.
This uproar caps what was an already rough week for the governor. Republicans attacked Northam over his comments about late-term abortion.
But in his video apology about the photo, Northam signals he does not intend to resign, but does offer remorse.
“I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” he says.
The Hill is reporting that the Virginia House Democratic caucus is holding a conference call to discuss the photo.
Should Northam end up resigning, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, also a Democrat, would assume the office.
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