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Who: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam
What: The Democratic governor is facing a barrage of calls for his resignation from both parties over a racist photo that appeared in his 1984 medical school yearbook — and for his muddled response to the controversy it sparked. The image, published on a page dedicated to Northam, shows a pair of men, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan-style robe and hood.
Northam first admitted he was one of the men in the picture, then later said he wasn’t. He further stoked the outrage against him by revealing that in a separate incident he appeared in blackface while dressed as Michael Jackson for a dance contest.
When: The image is from a 1984 yearbook and first surfaced last week. Northam first apologized on Friday, then held a puzzling news conference Saturday where he denied being in the photo, and by Sunday dozens of political leaders were demanding he resign.
Why: Critics say Northam has lost the trust of his party and the public, and therefore can no longer effectively accomplish the duties of his office. The image is also a fresh reminder of the country’s long and painful history of racism and the legacy of the Jim Crow laws.
What’s next? Northam, who took office in January 2018, has refused to step down and says he intends to serve the remainder of his term. Politicians, the Democratic National Committee chair, the CEO of the NAACP, and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus — along with several Democratic 2020 contenders — have demanded he resign. If he doesn’t do so voluntarily, Virginia lawmakers could pull legal levers to oust him. Northam met with staff Sunday night to consider his options.
He has to resign. He has lost the public trust and can’t fulfill the duties of the office.
“He is by all accounts a decent and considerate man. And yet, his poor judgment has undermined his standing with Virginians in ways that we believe will permanently impair his ability to act as an effective governor. He should resign and return to his profession as a physician, with the thanks of those he has served as a state senator, lieutenant governor, and for the past year, governor.” — Editorial, Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Ralph Northam is soon to be the former governor of Virginia. And that is how it should be. His governorship ended, as a practical matter, on Friday night, when he acknowledged he was in a just-surfaced 1984 photograph from his medical school yearbook of one man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.” — Columnist Dana Milbank, Washington Post
“Northam’s flip-flop on whether he was in the picture makes the situation even worse and demonstrates very clearly the need for him to effectively atone for his actions, but this atonement must occur after Northam leaves the governor’s mansion. Now it is clear that there is no salvaging Northam’s governorship, and he should not disgrace himself or the office by trying to remain as Virginia’s governor. Northam should listen to his constituents and his party and resign from his position immediately.” — Editorial, UVA Cavalier Daily
“If the governor I elected is, in fact, a man of integrity, he would step down. Accountability needs to be taken and an apology will not suffice. While I believe him to be sincere in his apology, the cycle of forgetting the transgressions of white men on stolen land in a country built on the backs of the enslaved and oppressed cannot continue.” — Columnist Jarrodd Davis, Collegiate Times
“His contemporaries have spoken. Men and women of high position on both sides of the political aisle have endorsed resignation. They have said in unmistakable language that Mr. Northam cannot now lead Virginia. The results are regrettable. But the damage is done. And it cannot now be undone.” — Editorial, The Daily Progress
He will do the right thing and step down.
“Ralph will do the right thing for the commonwealth of Virginia. He will put Virginia first. And I think that will happen relatively soon. … I know in his heart, he’s going to do the right thing.” — Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, CNN’s “State of the Union”
He deserves a chance to redeem himself.
“While it’s clear that Northam should step down as governor, it doesn’t mean that he and others like him should not be encouraged to change their minds. In the long run, it’s vital for our nation’s future.” — Dean Obeidallah, CNN
“It is a rush to judgment before we know all of the facts and before we’ve considered all of the consequences. … Even if the worst case scenario is true … there is an issue of redemption. … It was 400 years ago to this year when the first African-Americans were brought (here) as slaves. … And he understands that legacy better than many people are able to, and I think we ought to give him an opportunity to redeem himself.” — Former Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., on ABC’s “This Week” via USA Today
Fodder for difficult questions.
“About where youthful indiscretion ends and adult accountability begins. About why reporters and opposition researchers never turned up the photo until now. About the fate of monuments honoring the Confederacy. About Democrats who made a former KKK officer, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, their Senate leader in the 1970s and 1980s. About Republicans quick to condemn Northam but who give President Donald Trump a pass for racist rhetoric and actions.” — Editorial board, USA Today
Controversy is a reminder of country’s deep-rooted racism.
“It doesn’t matter if the photo was from 1984, 1974 or 2004. He defined what he meant when he paired blackface with a Klan hood. Racial segregation. Racial supremacy. When you have a symbol associated with hate from the beginning, you are saying exactly what you mean.” — Daryl Davis, a black blues musician known for trying to convert members of the KKK, Washington Post
My fellow Virginians, earlier today I released a statement apologizing for behavior in my past that falls far short of the standard you set for me when you elected me to be your governor. I believe you deserve to hear directly from me. pic.twitter.com/1rSw1oxfrX
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) February 2, 2019
The photo is racist and contrary to fundamental American values. I join my colleagues in Virginia calling on Governor Northam to do the right thing so that the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia can heal and move forward.
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) February 2, 2019
Democrat Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia just stated, “I believe that I am not either of the people in that photo.” This was 24 hours after apologizing for appearing in the picture and after making the most horrible statement on “super” late term abortion. Unforgivable!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2019
This has gone on too long. There is nothing to debate. He must resign. https://t.co/TjfS3vbcws
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 3, 2019
VA Governor Ralph Northam’s past racist behavior caps a week where he displayed an egregious lack of respect for human dignity and the American values that we fight every day to uphold. Staying in office only poisons efforts to grow together as one nation. He should resign.
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) February 2, 2019
Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government. The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) February 2, 2019
It doesn’t matter if he is a Republican or a Democrat. This behavior was racist and unconscionable. Governor Northam should resign.
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) February 2, 2019