Between Issues

IN WAKE OF RACIST PHOTO SCANDAL, CALLS FOR VA. GOVERNOR TO RESIGN INTENSIFY

Originally published to the Virginia Defender Facebook page on February 2, 2019. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes.

Staff Report

Photo of six demonstrators holding signs in front of a fence outside of the governor's mansion. The signs read: "Step down and do VA a favor!"; "Resign and co-sign Justin Fairfax!"; "Blackface No Place!"
Photo by Joseph Rogers

RICHMOND, VA, Feb. 2 — Braving unusually cold weather, more than 30 community members gathered this morning outside the Governor’s Mansion for a quickly called protest demanding Ralph Northam resign his position as the Commonwealth’s chief executive officer after being exposed as a racist.

The day before, Northam, a Democrat and a medical doctor, was forced to defend himself after a right-wing blog posted a photo from the governor’s 1984 medical school yearbook page depicting two men, one in blackface and the other in KKK robes and hood.

At first, Northam apologized for appearing in the deeply offensive photo, but later in the day said he didn’t remember being one of the two men in the picture. He then went on to admit that, “That same year, I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio [Texas], in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume.”

Despite this admission, Northam stated that he intended to serve out the remaining three years of his four-year term.

In the wake of the developing scandal, calls for Northam to resign have come from across the political spectrum, including at least two Democratic Party presidential contenders.

Should Northam be forced out of office, his successor would be the present lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, who is only the second African-American to be elected to statewide office in Virginia since the Civil War.

Northam had been a middle-of-the-road Democrat courted by the Republican Party until running in the Democratic Party primary for governor, in which his major opponent was an establishment liberal, former U.S. Congressman Thomas Perriello. In order to win the nomination, Northam veered to the left on some issues, although he has since angered much of the party’s progressive wing by refusing to oppose two unpopular pipeline projects.

For his part, Fairfax has opposed both projects and – unlike Northam – has stated that he will refuse to take financial contributions from Dominion Energy, the state’s most politically powerful lobbyist. Fairfax also has distinguished himself by his opposition to officially honoring the memory of Confederate general and slaveowner Robert E. Lee.

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