Democrats in presidential race call on Virginia governor to quit over KKK photo

Sen. Kamala Harris of California urged Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a fellow Democrat, to resign.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Sen. Kamala Harris of California and all the other top Democrats running for president are calling on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to resign after he admitted appearing in a 1984 yearbook photo showing one person in a Ku Klux Klan robe and another in blackface.

Harris was one of the first members of Congress to say Northam should step aside.

“Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government,” Harris, the most prominent black woman ever to seek the presidency, said late Friday on Twitter.

On Saturday, Northam backtracked and said he was not one of the two people in the photo and he would not resign.


In addition to Harris, four others vying for the party nomination demanded Friday the Democratic governor’s resignation: Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey, and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro of Texas.

“These racist images are deeply disturbing,” Warren said. “Hatred and discrimination have no place in our country and must not be tolerated, especially from our leaders — Republican or Democrat.”

Two of the party’s most talked-about 2020 prospects, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen Bernie Sanders of Vermont, joined the chorus of condemnation on Saturday.

“Gov. Northam should resign,” Sanders said on Twitter. “Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax should step in and begin a new day for Virginia.”

Biden said on Twitter, “There is no place for racism in America. Governor Northam has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately, Justin Fairfax is the leader Virginia needs now.”


Northam, a pediatric neurologist, released a statement Friday saying he was “deeply sorry” that he appeared in the Eastern Virginia Medical School photo, though he did not specify whether he was in blackface or wearing the KKK robe.

Northam graduated from the school in 1984. The yearbook photo was posted Friday by the conservative website Big League Politics.

The outcry Friday among civil rights leaders and liberal groups was immediate.

“While we are mindful that youth and young adults can make regrettable mistakes that may merit leniency, this image perpetuates some of the worst hate in our nation’s history and undermines the ability of all Virginians — particularly those of color — to have faith in the integrity of their governor,” said Janai Nelson of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and liberal advocacy groups MoveOn and Democracy for America all demanded Northam’s resignation. The Republican Governors Assn. also called on him to quit.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, another Democrat who might join the race for president, agreed that his successor should resign.


Four other possible Democratic presidential contenders also called on the Virginia governor to step down: Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Rep. Eric Swalwell from the San Francisco Bay Area, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.