Northam vows to finish term, even as top Dems demand he step down over yearbook photo

Embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam vowed Friday night to finish his term despite a controversy surrounding a racist yearbook picture that emerged of him earlier in the day — and in the face of increasing calls from top Democrats for him to step down.

“I am deeply sorry, I cannot change the decisions I made or undo the harm by behavior caused then and today but I accept responsibility for my past actions and am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” Northam, a Democrat, said in a video statement.

Demonstrators hold signs and chant outside the Governors office at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. The demonstrators are calling for the resignation of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam after a 30 year old photo of him on his medical school yearbook photo was widely distributed Friday. 

Demonstrators hold signs and chant outside the Governors office at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. The demonstrators are calling for the resignation of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam after a 30 year old photo of him on his medical school yearbook photo was widely distributed Friday.  (AP)

He said he has spent the last year as governor fighting for a Virginia “that works better for all people” and added : “I am committed to continuing that fight through the remainder of my term and living up to the expectations you set for me when you elected me to serve.”

Northam’s statement, which came after a lengthy written statement earlier in the day, was in response to the emergence of a photo from his medical school 1984 yearbook page, in which there is a picture of a man in blackface and another dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The photo was first posted by conservative website Big League Politics.

Northam, calling the photo “racist and offensive” in his earlier statement, admitted to being one of the people in the picture — but did not say which one.

But even as Northam said he would carry on his term, top Democrats were pulling their support and demanding his step down immediately.

“The situation that he has put himself and the Commonwealth of Virginia in is untenable. It’s time for Ralph to step down, and for the Commonwealth to move forward,” Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said, calling the photo “racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age and at any time.”

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said in a statement that the yearbook photos “rip the scabs of an excruciatingly painful history and are a piercing reminder of this nation’s sins. Those who would excuse the pictures are just as culpable.”

The group said it felt betrayed by Friday’s revelation and said the legacy of “slavery, racism, and Jim Crow has been an albatross around the necks of African Americans for over 400 years.”

Democrats hoping to secure their party’s nod for the 2020 presidential election also called for Northam to step aside.

“These images arouse centuries of anger, anguish, and racist violence and they’ve eroded all confidence in Gov. Northam’s ability to lead. We should expect more from our elected officials.” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., tweeted. “He should resign.”

He was joined in that call by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who said “there aren’t two sets of rules for our friends and our foes.”

“Americans deserve to be respected by their leaders, and racism cannot be excused in our government or anywhere else,” she said. “Having seen the photo, I believe Governor Northam should resign.”

“Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., tweeted. “The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.”

Republicans too joined the calls that Northam should step down with Virginia GOP Chairman Jack Wilson saying his pledge to fix the damage wasn’t enough.

“It’s not enough, it’s not acceptable and clearly we cannot establish a double standard,” he said on CNN. “If this were a Republican governor, the calls for his resignation would be fast and furious and widespread.”

“He just basically lost the moral ability to lead the Commonwealth and so he should resign for the good of the Commonwealth,” he added.

The calls came a day after Northam sparked outrage with comments about a controversial abortion bill that one sponsor had said this week could allow women to terminate a pregnancy up until the moment before birth.

Northam, a former pediatric neurologist, was asked about those comments and said that third-trimester abortions are done with “the consent of obviously the mother, with consent of the physician, multiple physicians by the way, and it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities or there may be a fetus that’s not viable.”

“So in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, 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.”

While the intent of the comments were not clear, conseravtive commentators and lawmakers took the remarks to mean he was discussing the possibility of letting a newborn die — or even killing it outright.

Northam pushed back, with his office saying his comments were limited to actions physicians may take in the case of “tragic or difficult circumstances” such as a non-viable pregnancy or “severe fetal abnormalities.” He later tweeted: I have devoted my life to caring for children and any insinuation otherwise is shameful and disgusting.”

On Friday, Virginia’s Republican Party said that the picture was “unforgivable” and made reference to the abortion controversy.

“Given his statements on the right to life coupled with the most recent revelations, he has lost the moral authority to continue to govern and should resign immediately,” the party said.

Leave a reply