RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apologized on Friday for a racist photo in which he appeared more than 30 years ago, but said he did not intend to heed calls to resign from both Republicans and prominent fellow Democrats, including several presidential hopefuls.
The yearbook images were first published Friday by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. The Virginian-Pilot later obtained a copy from Eastern Virginia Medical School, which Northam attended. The photo shows two people looking at the camera — one in blackface wearing a hat, bow tie and plaid pants; the other in a full Ku Klux Klan robe.
A reporter saw the yearbook page and confirmed its authenticity at the medical school.
In his first apology, issued in a written statement Friday night, Northam called the costume he wore “clearly racist and offensive,” but he didn’t say which one he had worn.
He later issued a video statement saying he was “deeply sorry” but still committed to serving the “remainder of my term.”
“I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” Northam said.
Northam’s political viability hinges on whether he can maintain support among the state’s black pastors, officials and state lawmakers, many of whom have long personal relationships with the governor since he first ran for state Senate in 2007.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement late Friday saying “we feel complete betrayal” and are “still processing” the pictures.
“What has been revealed is disgusting, reprehensible and offensive,” the statement said.
Others said there was no question he should step down. Among them: Democratic presidential hopefuls Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand; newly elected Democratic U.S. Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia; the NAACP and Planned Parenthood.
State Sen. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, a close ally of Northam and longtime African-American lawmaker, described a hastily called conference call with black leaders around the state as “intense,” her voice breaking, but did not elaborate.
Northam spent years actively courting the black community in the lead up to his 2017 gubernatorial run, building relationships that helped him win both the primary and the general election. He’s a member of a predominantly black church on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where he grew up.
“It’s a matter of relationships and trust. That’s not something that you build overnight,” Northam said during a 2017 campaign stop while describing his relationship with the black community.
Northam, a folksy pediatric neurologist who is personal friends with many GOP lawmakers, has recently come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.
Last week, Florida’s secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.