Virginia governor hangs on amid outcry over racist photo




  • In US
  • 2019-02-05 18:13:50Z
  • By Reuters
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, accompanied by his wife Pamela Northam announces he will not resign during a news conference in Richmond
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, accompanied by his wife Pamela Northam announces he will not resign during a news conference in Richmond  

(Reuters) - Embattled Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Tuesday resisted calls to step down over a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page, with the state's Democratic Latino organization joining the chorus seeking his resignation.

The first-term Democrat has been under fire since a conservative media website released the photo on Friday, which showed one person in blackface standing beside a masked person in the white robes of the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.

Northam, who has avoided the public since Saturday, faced calls to step down from many top Democrats in Virginia - seen as a key swing state for the 2020 presidential election - as well as from at least five Democratic presidential candidates.

Monique Alcala, the president of the Virginia Democratic Latino Caucus, became the latest to urge Northam to quit. In a telephone interview she said she believed his record showed he was not racist but that Northam should reign because he had lost the moral authority to lead.

"On matters of equity and justice you really have to have trust with the community and this has really violated that trust," she said.

Northam, 59, who is white, initially apologized on Friday and said he was one of the two people in the photo. He changed his story a day later, saying he did not appear in the picture but had dressed in blackface at another point that year to portray pop star Michael Jackson in a dance competition.

The origins of blackface date to 19th-century "minstrel" shows in which white performers covered their faces in black grease paint to caricature slaves.

Northam, who took office a year ago, has vowed to finish his four-year term.

Northam has been huddling with advisers and cabinet officers while his political heir apparent, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, 39, confronted a potential scandal of his own.

Fairfax on Monday denied a sexual assault allegation that was reported against him on the same website that first disclosed the Northam yearbook photo.

The Big League Politics site posted a private Facebook message on Sunday purportedly obtained from the accuser with her permission by a friend suggesting that Fairfax had assaulted her during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. While the Facebook post did not explicitly name Fairfax, the website's story linked him to the allegation.

At least two media outlets, including the Washington Post, said a woman had approached them more than a year ago with the same allegation, but that they had been unable to substantiate her account.

Fairfax has been non-committal on Northam's future, saying it was up to the governor to decide his next move but that he would be ready to step up if needed.

Should Northam resign, Fairfax is in line to become the second African-American governor in the history of Virginia, where his great-great-great grandfather was a slave. The first was Douglas Wilder, a Democrat elected in 1989.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Additional reporting by Gary Robertson in Richmond; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)

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