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.”
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.”
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.