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Virginia governor resists calls to resign over racist photo

Updated February 4, 2019 - 5:41 pm

WASHINGTON — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam resisted calls to resign on Monday after the release of a photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page of someone in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

As calls for Northam to resign grew, the politician who would be next in line, Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax, was drawn into a controversy of his own. Fairfax, a Democrat like Northam, denied an allegation first reported by a conservative website that he sexually assaulted a woman at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.

The Washington Post reported that it had followed up on the allegation in 2017, but could not corroborate the woman’s account and did not run the story.

Fairfax told reporters, “It was uncorroborated because it was not true.”

The 1984 yearbook photo first entered the public spotlight Friday, after the right-leaning web site Big League Politics posted it online.

Northam promptly released an apology. “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now,” he said in a statement that acknowledged he was in the photo without stipulating which figure he was.

Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillebrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts were among the first presidential hopefuls to call on Northam to step down.

On Saturday, Northam held a press conference in which he attempted to defend himself and his ability to govern. Instead, Northam denied that he was in the photo.

But Northam admitted that he once appeared in blackface as an impersonator of the late pop star Michael Jackson.

Afterwards, some Democrats who had urged caution — Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine — joined the din of those calling on Northam to resign.

“When people from your own party are demanding you resign, it’s hard to claim that this is nothing but politics,” said Marc Sandalow, a political analyst with the University of California Washington program.

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump weighed in on the controversy on Twitter. Trump faulted the campaign of Ed Gillespie, the GOP nominee who lost to Northam in 2017, with opposition research “malpractice.”

Trump also expressed disbelief that Northam was being asked to resign because of a photo in a 1984 yearbook, and not “the most horrible statement” the governor gave about Virginia legislation to loosen restrictions on third-trimester abortions.

On Thursday, Northam, a pediatric neurologist, told a radio station that third-trimester abortions are done when a fetus is non-viable or severely deformed. If a mother is in labor, Northam said, “the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated, if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway noted Monday that Northam explicitly had used the term “infant.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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