Saying he now thinks racist photo isn’t of him, Northam says he won’t resign

By: and - February 2, 2019 12:45 pm

Demonstrators outside the governor’s mansion Saturday call on Gov. Ralph Northam to resign. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Democratic Party says Gov. Ralph Northam, the subject of an immense outcry over a racist photo that surfaced from his medical yearbook, will not step down, resisting calls for his resignation from virtually every state Democrat and many Republicans.

“We made the decision to let Governor Northam do the correct thing and resign this morning — we have gotten word he will not do so this morning,” Democratic Party of Virginia Chair Susan Swecker said in a statement.

“We stand with Democrats across Virginia and the country calling him to immediately resign. He no longer has our confidence or our support.

“Gov. Northam must end this chapter immediately, step down, and let Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax heal Virginia’s wounds and move us forward. We can think of no better person than Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to do so.”

The page from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook that has ignited widespread calls for his resignation.

Even though the governor apologized Friday for appearing in the photo, his office now says he now thinks that he is not in the photo. The New York Times reports he’s been calling former classmates in an effort to get more information about the photo and is considering using facial recognition technology to make his case.

The Virginian-Pilot reported that Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, is not convinced by the denials.

“Then you waited too long to say it wasn’t you,” she said. “He’s losing even more credibility.”

Demonstrators outside the governor’s mansion Saturday call on Gov. Ralph Northam to resign. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Northam is scheduled to address the media at 2:30 p.m.

On Saturday morning, a crowd of about 20 people gathered outside the Governor’s Mansion to call for his immediate resignation so Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, the second person of color elected to statewide office in Virginia, could succeed him.

“His show of remorse was, ‘I’m ready to deal with what happened, we can go on this long road of recovery,'” said Francisca Leigh-Davis of Richmond. “I don’t want to recover with you. Not in that office. You need to step down.”

Shawn Utsey, chair of Virginia Commonwealth University’s African-American Studies department, said Northam’s picture cuts deep for black Virginians.

“The South has a cloud over it,” Utsey said. “When these things happen they don’t happen in a vacuum, they happen in a historical context … and you’re asking someone to forgive and forget generations of pain.”

A Ku Klux Klan robe and blackface invokes fear even if someone hasn’t had an interaction with the white supremacist group.

“We have to understand the symbolism behind these displays is historical, racial terror and it’s very difficult to reconcile that even when someone’s kind,” Utsey said. “Sometimes kindness and racism have not been contradicting expressions for white America.”

Utsey didn’t say Northam should resign, but did say he thinks it would difficult to convince citizens he’s genuine in efforts to benefit black residents and an apology isn’t enough.

“Black people, historically, are forgiving, sometimes to a fault,” he said. “But I think asking for forgiveness adds insult to injury. We’ve jumped over the nature of the offense, the accountability … and we’re asking black folks to forget about that. That’s how we’ve been asked to relate to slavery.”

The country has a history of white politicians who have implemented policies that help black people but personally regarded black people as less than, Utsey said.

“Even though Northam is perceived as an ally — particularly because he’s a Democrat — it’s confusing for black folks,” Utsey said. “Someone you thought was a friend has actually been engaging in hurtful behavior.

“This behavior exists whether people are Republicans or Democrats, these issues are bigger than that. It’s an American issue.”

Ned Oliver and Mechelle Hankerson contributed.

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Robert Zullo
Robert Zullo

Robert spent 13 years as a reporter and editor at weekly and daily newspapers and was previously editor of the Virginia Mercury. He was a staff writer and managing editor at Worrall Community Newspapers in Union, N.J., before spending five years in south Louisiana covering hurricanes, oil spills and Good Friday crawfish boils as a reporter and city editor for the The Courier and the Daily Comet newspapers in Houma and Thibodaux. He covered Richmond city hall for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 2012 to 2013 and worked as a general assignment and city hall reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2013 to 2016. He returned to Richmond in 2016 to cover energy, environment and transportation for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Contact him at [email protected]

Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.