Virginia Democrats overwhelmingly call on Northam to resign

By: - February 2, 2019 12:57 am
Gov. Ralph Northam

Gov. Ralph Northam listens to speeches at the annual tax-tribute ceremony at the executive mansion. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

An overwhelming number of Democratic elected leaders think Gov. Ralph Northam should resign after a racist photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook began circulating Friday after it was published by a conservative website

“We are so deeply saddened by the news that has been revealed today. We are having trouble reconciling our experience with Gov. Northam with what we see in this photo,” Virginia House of Delegates Democrats said in a statement.

“The Gov. Northam we know is a great friend and ally, who has served and dedicated himself to our  commonwealth and the nation.

“However, constituents’ trust in their elected officials is paramount. 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 Gov. Northam’s resignation.”

Senate Democrats have called on Northam to do the same.

Northam’s predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, said the governor’s position is untenable.

“It’s time for Ralph to step down, and for the commonwealth to move forward,” McAuliffe said on Twitter.

Democratic presidential hopefuls and Democrats representing Virginia in the U.S. House were also calling on Northam to step down.

“I am so deeply disappointed and dismayed by the horrific picture of Gov. Northam that surfaced today,” U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, said in a statement.

“Virginia has a particularly sordid history with racism from the first enslaved Africans on our shores, to the capital of the Confederacy to Massive Resistance to the struggles African-American Virginians face today,” he added.

“In light of that stain on our commonwealth and the work that still needs to be done, I ask the governor to step aside. … Virginians have too much to overcome and too much healing yet in front of us.”

When he took office in 2017, McEachin became the third African-American to represent Virginia in the House.Two of the Virginia Democrats who just took office in January are also calling for the governor to resign.

“We need leaders who will bring us together instead of driving us apart. While it was proper for Gov. Northam to apologize, there is no excuse for this type of photograph then or now,” U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-2nd, said in a statement. “I ask Gov. Northam to resign. This isn’t about politics, this is about what is right and wrong.”

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, the second African American elected to represent Virginia in the House, also called Northam’s past behavior “indefensible,” but stopped short of calling for his resignation.

“I know the governor has dedicated his life to public service, and he has advanced policies to help African Americans and Virginians from all walks of life. I take him at his word that he is deeply sorry, and that he understands that his behavior was inappropriate and offensive,” Scott said.

“History will have to judge his life and public record, and this chapter will be a major stain on that record. The governor must now make the right decision that is best for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, said, the “bigotry depicted in this photograph is appalling.”

She added that Northam “must resign and fully acknowledge the painful past these images evoke.”

Democratic presidential candidates — including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, as well as former Obama Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro — also called for Northam’s resignation.

Other Virginia Democrats, including both U.S. senators, condemned Northam’s behavior, but stopped short of calling for him to leave office.

“The racist photo from Gov. Northam’s 1984 yearbook is horrible,” Sen. Tim Kaine said of the yearbook photo showing a man in blackface and a person wearing a KKK robe.

Kaine said: “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 called the photo “shocking and deeply offensive, all the more so because of Virginia’s long and painful history of racism and violence toward African Americans.” He added that Northam “must now listen to the people and communities he has hurt, and carefully consider what comes next.”

Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton,D-10th, said the “deeply offensive” photo “is not reflective of the man and friend I’ve known the past six years, but it is also not reflective of someone who should be leading our commonwealth.”

Wexton spoke to Northam Friday night, she added, “and hope that he will do what is best to allow our commonwealth to heal moving forward.”

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-11th said he takes Northam “at his word” that he no longer holds those racist views.

“The question now is whether redemption and forgiveness are achievable under these circumstances and in the explosive racial environment of the Trump alt-right era,” Connolly said in a statement.

“Gov. Northam must search his heart to determine whether he can or should continue in office, Connolly said.

“I fear that the breach of trust this represents for those who entrusted him with their votes and confidence cannot easily be recovered and the profound hurt those pictures evoke cannot easily be healed.”

Also calling for Northam’s resignation Friday was Republican U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, 5th District.

The freshman lawmaker called Northam’s apology “hollow” on Twitter. “This type of behavior can not be tolerated at any level. You need to resign,” he said.

Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, 1st District, wrote on Twitter that the “hateful rhetoric that this photo represents has no place in our commonwealth, and especially not the governor’s mansion.”

And U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th, said Northam should put “the needs of the commonwealth above all else.”

“The racist pictures revealed tonight opened wounds that I fear are beyond his capacity to heal,” Beyer said.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.