Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam considered resigning amid a scandal that he once wore blackface, but the pediatric neurologist said Sunday that he’s “not going anywhere” because the state “needs someone that can heal” it.
Northam said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that it’s been a difficult week since a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced, showing a person wearing blackface next to a second person wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.
Northam initially said he had appeared in the photo — although he didn’t say which costume he was wearing — and apologized. The next day, however, he denied being in the photo, while acknowledging that he had worn blackface to a dance party that same year.
“Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor,” Northam said. “Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere.”
Northam’s political turmoil comes as the two other top Democrats in the state face their own potentially career-ending scandals, with allegations of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax — Northam’s successor if the governor were to resign — and Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledging that he wore blackface at a party in 1980. Herring would become governor if both Northam and Fairfax resigned.
The scandals have become a full-blown crisis for Virginia Democrats. Although the party has taken an almost zero-tolerance approach to misconduct among its members in this #MeToo era, a housecleaning in Virginia could be costly: If all three Democrats resigned, Republican state House Speaker Kirk Cox would become governor.
The scandals also could hurt the Democrats’ chances of flipping control of the General Assembly. All 140 legislative seats will be up for grabs in November, and Democrats had previously been hopeful that voter antipathy toward President Trump would help them cement Virginia’s status as a blue state.
Now, many fret their crisis in leadership will not only cost them chances of winning GOP-held seats but also several seats held by Democrats.
Two women allege Fairfax sexually assaulted them, and both have offered to testify if an impeachment hearing were called against him. The lieutenant governor issued a statement Saturday again denying he ever sexually assaulted anyone and making clear he does not intend to immediately step down. Instead, he urged authorities to investigate the allegations against him.
Herring has apologized for appearing in blackface but has not indicated he would resign either, despite his initially forceful call for Northam to step down. The admission came after rumors began circulating at the Capitol.
Asked Sunday for his opinion on his subordinates, Northam said in the CBS interview that it’s up to Fairfax and Herring to decide whether they want to remain in office. He said he supports Fairfax’s call for an investigation into the sexual assault allegations. Of Herring, he said that “just like me, he has grown.”
Democratic Del. Patrick Hope said he wants to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax on Monday, but Hope is not a powerful figure in the House and there’s little sign there’s a broad appetite for impeachment with lawmakers set to finish this year’s legislative session by the end of the month.
If a hearing did occur, attorneys for both of Fairfax’s accusers — Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson — say they would be willing to testify. The Associated Press does not generally name those who say they are victims of sexual assault, but both women have come forward voluntarily.
Watson alleges that Fairfax raped her while they were students at Duke University in 2000, her attorney said in a statement. Tyson, a California college professor, accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex on him at a Boston hotel in 2004.