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‘He should step down ’: Racist photo sparks near-universal calls for Northam to resign

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) resisted calls to resign after his 1984 medical school yearbook page showing two people in blackface and KKK robe came to light. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

This file is being updated as new statements are posted.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) apologized Friday for a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page. But he refused to resign on Saturday, despite an avalanche of calls for him to step down. In a lengthy news conference, Northam said he did not submit the photo — which shows one person in blackface and one in Ku Klux Klan garb — to be included on his page and does not believe the photo is of him.

Four hours later, Virginia’s two Democratic U.S. senators and its senior member of Congress, also a Democrat, announced they had called Northam after his public appearance to tell him “we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign.”

Here are their and other reactions from around the Virginia and the country, after Northam’s news conference and before:

On Saturday, after the news conference:

Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine and Rep. Bobby Scott, all Democrats from Virginia:

“After we watched his press conference today, we called Governor Northam to tell him that we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign. Governor Northam has served the people of the Commonwealth faithfully for many years, but the events of the past 24 hours have inflicted immense pain and irrevocably broken the trust Virginians must have in their leaders. He should step down and allow the Commonwealth to begin healing.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) addressed the controversy surrounding a photo that appears on his page in his 1984 medical school yearbook. (Video: Reuters)

NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson: “We are deeply disappointed in Gov. Ralph Northam decision to not resign today. His failure to take accountability for his actions is sickening. He says he used shoe polish on his face to mimic Michael Jackson, yet denies he ever used Black face. This is unacceptable for any leader. He contradicts his earlier decision to admit responsibility to now say he had nothing to do with the photo. Implicit bias is bias, and it’s clear that someone who cannot distinguish from using shoe polish on his face to imitate a Black person clearly suffers from this or is delusional. This image is example of the historical effects of institutional racism and the lack of awareness of the discrimination against of Black people. Racism of any kind cannot be excused nor overlooked. We stand by our call for his resignation. He will now have to answer to his constituents in Virginia who will find it difficult to make peace with his choice.

Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez: “I spoke with Governor Northam this morning. His past actions are completely antithetical to everything the Democratic Party stands for. Virginians and people across the country deserve better from their leaders, and it is clear that Ralph Northam has lost their trust and his ability to govern. The Democratic Party believes that diversity is our greatest strength and that hatred and racism have no place in our democracy. And we will never hesitate to hold accountable people who violate those values, regardless of their party affiliation. It’s time for Ralph Northam to step aside and let Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax serve Virginians as their next Governor. Justin is a dedicated public servant who is committed to building a brighter future for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Reps. Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.):

“We expected Governor Northam to resign this morning. Nothing we have heard since changes our view that his resignation is the the only way forward for the Commonwealth.

“Virginia has a painful past where racism was too often not called out for its evil. The only way to overcome that history is to speak and act with absolute moral clarity. It is for that reason the Governor must step aside and allow the process of healing to being under the leadership of Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax.”

Virginia Legislative Black Caucus:

“We amplify our call for the Governor to resign. As we stated, yesterday we met with the Governor, looked him in the eye and expressed our deep sense of betrayal, pain, and disappointment. During our meeting, both the members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and Governor Northam were direct and honest with each other. In light of his public admission and apology for his decision to appear in the photo, he has irrevocably lost the faith and trust of the people he was elected to serve. Changing his public story today now casts further doubt on his ability to regain that trust.

“At a critical juncture in this legislative session, we need to focus on the important work of governing. We cannot continue this work with Governor Northam at the helm. The damage that has been done by these revelations is irreparable. Our confidence in his ability to govern for the over 8 million Virginians has been eviscerated. Another moment should not pass before we hear Governor Northam do the honorable thing and resign.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D):

“It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commnwealth and it is time for him to step down. I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment.”

Former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder (D),the nation’s first elected black governor: “I stated, earlier, that Gov. Northam’s continuing in office was his choice to make. It is difficult for anyone who watched the press conference today to conclude that he has any other choice ... but to resign.”

Earlier tweet, before the news conference:
“I have had many requests for response to the revelation of Gov. Ralph Northam’s yearbook picture from 1984 depicting him in “Blackface or KKK garb.” It has never been right, in Virginia, nor anywhere else to participate in or condone such mockery or insensitive behavior and for that Gov. Northam should be criticized. This is not about politics or personal relationships, this is about government ‘of the people, for the people and by the people’ – ALL of the people. The choice of his continuing in office is his to make.”

President Donald Trump:

“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!”

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), who lost to Northam in the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary:

“As painful as yesterday was for Virginia, I hoped that today would bring healing, truth and transformation. I pray Sunday will be that day.

This isn’t just about an old racist photo. It has opened wounds when we should be building a more inclusive Virginia.”

Democratic Governor’s Association:

Today, DGA Chair Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-R.I.) and DGA Vice Chair/Chair Elect Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) released the following statement on Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D-VA) yearbook photo: “The photo of Ralph Northam’s yearbook that surfaced yesterday is both racist and inexcusable,” said Govs. Raimondo and Murphy. “It is time for Gov. Northam to step aside and allow Virginia to move forward.”

Presidential candidate Julián Castro:
“My perspective hasn’t changed. He has clearly lost the confidence of his delegation and many of the people he serves, and has seemed to give conflicting explanations over the last two days of the situation. The state would be better served with Justin Fairfax as governor.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser:

“If Governor Northam loves Virginia the way I know he does, he will resign to allow the Commonwealth to focus on its place in addressing the history of slavery and racism in America.”

Richard V. Homan, president of Eastern Virginia Medical School:

“We share the outrage, alarm and sadness voiced by our alumni, the press and many on social media regarding the picture published in the 1984 student yearbook. The picture is shockingly abhorrent and absolutely antithetical to the principles, morals and values we hold and espouse of our educational and research institution and our professions. Racism and discrimination in any form is not acceptable.

“We cannot change the events of the past, but we can use these events as reminders of the importance of our ongoing work toward diversity and inclusion. This is a time for self-reflection and humility. On behalf of our beloved EVMS, I sincerely apologize for the past transgressions of your trust. We recognize the need to address and rectify any issues of racism and discrimination that arise, at any point — and will continue a long tradition of action to build a strong culture of diversity and inclusion.

“Therefore, I shall convene an urgent meeting of members of our senior leadership and members of our Boards to address this issue holistically for EVMS. We will, of course, include students, residents, faculty, staff, and alumni in this work.”

Read the rest of the statement here.

On Saturday, before the news conference:

Former vice president Joe Biden (D): “There is no place for racism in America. Governor Northam has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately, [Lt. Gov.] Justin Fairfax is the leader Virginia needs now.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): “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.”

Former NAACP chair and Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous : “Governor Northam should resign. Period. We would not accept such behavior from a Republican. How can we from a Democrat? ... He has shown a profound failure of character, courage and candor. Character would have driven not to do this in the first place. He failed. Courage would have motivated him during the years since, not to mention during his long tenure in public service, to come forward disclose the error of his ways and apologize. He failed. .... Q: What’s worse? That Northam knew he was in the photo but wanted us to believe that he couldn’t remember whether he put black shoe polish on his face or donned a Klan hood. OR Now having said he was in the photo he wants us to believe we actually wasn’t. A: Just Quit.”

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): Gov. Northam should resign. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax should step in and begin a new day for Virginia.

ACLU of Virginia: “We believe that Ralph Northam’s admitted past actions, combined with his failure to surface & address them before others called him out, disqualify him from being a leader who can lead us in dismantling systems that support the continued oppression of people of color.”

Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.)

On Saturday morning: “The Governor needs to resign. We’ve spoken twice since this story broke, and I encouraged him to resign because it’s what’s best for Virginia. This is a difficult time for our Commonwealth, but I know we can move forward & start healing under the leadership of @LGJustinFairfax.”

On Friday evening, she tweeted:

“The horrible photo that Governor Northam chose to publish in his medical school yearbook is racist and deeply offensive. That photograph is not reflective of the man and frieind I’ve known the past six years, but it is also not reflective of someone who should be leading our Commonwealth. I spoke witht he Governor tonight, and hope that he will do what is best to allow our Commwealth to heal moving forward.”

Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox, Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, GOP Caucus chair Tim Hugo and Majority Whip Nick Rush:

“When the racist picture first emerged Friday, we were shocked and repulsed. The photo is disturbing and offensive, as unacceptable in 1984 as it is today. We withheld judgement last night while awaiting an explanation from the Governor believing the gravity of the situation deserved prudence and deliberation. We agree with the powerful words of our colleagues in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and believe that because of this photo the Governor has lost the confidence of the citizens he serves. While we respect the Governor’s lifetime of service, his ability to lead and govern is permanently impaired and the interests of the Commonwealth necessitate his resignation.”

Reactions from Friday night:

Virginia Legislative Black Caucus: “We just finished meeting with the Governor. We fully appreciate all that he has contributed to our Commonwealth. But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as Governor. It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing.”

Virginia House Democratic Caucus: “We are so deeply saddened by the news that has been revealed today. We are having trouble reconciling our experience with Governor Northam with what we see in this photo. The Governor Northam we know is a great friend and ally, who has served and dedicated himself to our Commonwealth and the nation.

“However, constituents’ trust in their elected officials is paramount. We regret to say that we are no longer confident in the Governor’s representation of Virginians. Though it brings us no joy to do so, we must call for Governor Northam’s resignation.”

Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus: “After seeing the yearbook pictures that surfaced of Governor Northam today, we were shocked, saddened and offended. Virginia has a complicated racial history and past, and those pictures certainly reflect that. Black face was used to ridicule African Americans and the Klan was a source of terror and intimidation. The racism engendered by these images was real then and resurrected by these images today. We are beyond disappointed.

“The Ralph Northam we know is a pediatric neurologist, a dedicated public servant, and a committed husband and father. Nevertheless, it is with heavy hearts that we have respectfully asked him to step down.”

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D): “This has been a heartbreaking day. Ralph Northam is my friend and he served well as my Lt. Governor and as Governor. His actions on display in this photo were racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age and any time. 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.”

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.): “It is never easy to condemn a personal friend, but Governor Northam’s past behavior is indefensible. I know the Governor has dedicated his life to public service, and he has advanced policies to help African Americans and Virginians from all walks of life. I take him at his word that he is deeply sorry, and that he understands that his behavior was inappropriate and offensive. History will have to judge his life and public record, and this chapter will be a major stain on that record.The Governor must now make the right decision that is best for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.): “I know that Governor Northam is searching his soul tonight and I hope and trust he puts the needs of the Commonwealth above all else.

“The racist pictures revealed tonight opened wounds that I fear are beyond his capacity to heal.”

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.): “The racist photo of Governor Northam on his EVMS yearbook page is absolutely disturbing and unacceptable. The hateful rhetoric that this photo represents has no place in our Commonwealth, and especially not the Governor’s mansion.”

Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.): “I am so deeply disappointed and dismayed by the horrific picture of Governor Northam that surfaced today. Four hundred years ago, Africans arrived in this country, enslaved and kept as slaves for over two hundred years. Systemic racism is still endemic today in every part of America. Virginia has a particularly sordid history with racism from the first enslaved Africans on our shores, to the capital of the Confederacy to Massive resistance to the struggles African-American Virginians face today.

“In light of that stain on our Commonwealth and the work that still needs to be done, I ask the governor to step aside. While I acknowledge his efforts on behalf of all Virginians and the good he has done as a senator, as our lieutenant governor and now as governor, Virginians have too much to overcome and too much healing yet in front of us.”

Democratic National Committee member Atima Omara: “As a Virginian and a Democrat who has supported Governor Northam, I am appalled at the picture I’ve seen. The image represents the painful legacy of Jim Crow and white supremacy and must be condemned. I wish him well, but for the good of Virginia he must resign.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring: “The photo, the conduct it captures, and the racist imagery invoked are all indefensible. The photo would be profoundly offensive in any circumstances, but it is also shocking and deeply disappointing to know that it pictures Governor Northam. Virginia’s history is unfortunately replete with the scars and unhealed wounds caused by racism, bigotry, and discrimination. It is imperative that Governor Northam hears and truly listens to those who are hurt by this image as he considers what comes next.”

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.): “The racist photo from Governor Northam’s 1984 yearbook is horrible. This causes pain in a state and a country where centuries of racism have already left an open wound. I hope the Governor—whose career as an Army officer, pediatrician and public official has always manifested a commitment to justice and equality for all—now takes the time to listen to those he has hurt and reflect on how to move forward.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.): “This photo is shocking and deeply offensive, all the more so because of Virginia’s long and painful history of racism and violence toward African Americans. The Governor must now listen to the people and communities he has hurt, and carefully consider what comes next.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ): “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. He should resign.”

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.): “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.”

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.): “These racist images are deeply disturbing. Hatred and discrimination have no place in our country and must not be tolerated, especially from our leaders – Republican or Democrat. Northam must resign.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio): “Governor Northam should resign.”

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.): “This photo may not be the sum of who Ralph Northam is, but there’s no doubt, that the right thing for him to do as a leader is to step down.”

Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney (D): “Governor Northam has a long and distinguished history of service to our Commonwealth and nation, but he should do the honorable thing and step down.”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.): “The bigotry depicted in this photograph is appalling. There should always be serious consequences for actions that demean, intimidate, or threaten our African-American communities. Such conduct is unacceptable for any Virginian—whether occurring in the past, present, or future. Governor Northam must resign and fully acknowledge the painful past these images evoke. Bigotry has no place in Virginia.”

Dr. Leana Wen, president, Planned Parenthood Federation of America: “As the nation’s largest provider of reproductive health care, we have a responsibility to advocate for all patients, and to provide compassionate health care to all people who walk through our doors. There is no place for Gov. Ralph Northam’s racist actions or language. He must step down as Governor. The people of Virginia need to be able to trust that their leaders will fight for them, and support policies that protect their health, safety and value their communities. Gov. Northam’s actions have put that in doubt.”

Jennifer Lewis, acting chair, the Waynesboro, Va., Democratic committee: “The Waynesboro Democratic committee calls on Governor Northam to resign. As we work towards a more just world, this is a reminder of how much work we have yet to do. This behavior should not have had and does not now have a place in the Democratic Party.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.): “Earlier today the yearbook page of Ralph Northam from Eastern Virginia Medical School in 1984 was posted on several social media sites. The pictures show one man with a black face and another in full KKK garb. Governor Northam has acknowledged that he posed for that offensive picture, apologized and asserted that he no longer holds those racist views. I take him at his word.

“The question now is whether redemption and forgiveness are achievable under these circumstances and in the explosive racial environment of the Trump alt right era.

“Governor Northam must search his heart to determine whether he can or should continue in office. I fear that the breach of trust this represents for those who entrusted him with their votes and confidence cannot easily be recovered and the profound hurt those pictures evoke cannot easily be healed.”

Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund: “Whether the year is 1984 or 2019, the image on Governor Northam’s yearbook page is simply inexcusable. Such bigotry has no place in American life, let alone the highest levels of government. While we are mindful that youth and young adults can make regrettable mistakes that may merit leniency, this image perpetuates some of the worst hate in our nation’s history and undermines the ability of all Virginians – particularly those of color – to have faith in the integrity of their Governor. His failure to proactively own a mistake of this magnitude before it was discovered by others calls into question his ability to credibly lead the diverse people of Virginia.

“We vehemently condemn racism regardless of the political party of the offender, and Governor Northam is no exception. His apology is insufficient, and we demand his immediate resignation.”

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.): “We need leaders who will bring us together instead of driving us apart. While it was proper for Governor Northam to apologize, there is no excuse for this type of photograph then or now,” Congresswoman Luria said. “Unfortunately, the existence of this photograph does not bring us together. I ask Governor Northam to resign. This isn’t about politics, this is about what is right and wrong.”

Barbara Boxer, former Democratic U.S. Senator from California: “You can’t get much sicker than honoring the KKK. It’s not about apologizing, Governor, it’s about having failed to reveal and explain your deep racist past as you ran as a Democrat in the 21st century. You disgrace our party and our country. Resign.”

The chairs of the Democratic Committees of Alexandria City, Arlington County, Fairfax County, and Falls Church City issued the following joint personal statement: “The behavior depicted in the photo is abhorrent and repulsive at any age. There is no place for hate and racism in a multicultural, pluralistic Virginia. With the dark and painful history of slavery, racism, and segregation in Virginia and our country, we expect the leader of our Commonwealth to embody the fight for justice, fairness, and equality for all. Governor Northam can no longer do so. We urge Governor Northam to resign. We refuse to place party loyalty above our core principles.”

Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters: “We strongly condemn Governor Northam’s past actions and call for his immediate resignation. We look forward to working with a Justin Fairfax administration going forward to advance conservation and environmental quality for all Virginians.”

James Comey, former FBI director: “Governor Northam should resign. Our Commonwealth is better than this and deserves better than this.”

State Del. Danica Roem (D-Prince William): “I stand in solidarity with the @VaBlackCaucus in calling for the resignation of the governor of Virginia. Who I know him to be today is not reflective of his racist past but the wound ripped open today by that racism has irreparably harmed our commonwealth and hurt our people.”

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene: “The Commonwealth of Virginia has a long history of bigotry and racism. And in 2019, there is absolutely no place for racism in Virginia. The message this photograph sends is in direct conflict with the values that NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia fights for every day: equality and freedom for all people.

I have personally known Ralph Northam for 12 years. During that time, I have only known him to be a humble, honest and dedicated physician and public servant.

The Governor’s yearbook picture is deeply offensive and reprehensible. The images are, and were, contemptible and inexcusable. We strongly urge Governor Northam to resign.

This is a deeply sad moment for Virginia and all Virginians. This not a time for political or partisan posturing and any individual or organization attempting to do so is unconscionably divisive. As Virginians, we must come together to reject our past wrongs and identify what each of us can do to build a better and more inclusive future for every resident of our Commonwealth.”

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus:

“Ralph Northam served in our nation’s military, treated thousands of families as a medical doctor, and had the audacity to ask for Black votes when he wanted to become governor, yet never once mentioned that he thought it was ok to be in black face or dressed as a Klansman.

“An apology now isn’t enough. The governor needs to learn that it’s not about what you do once you’re caught. Instead, it’s about the things you do when you think no one is watching.

“We now know what Ralph Northam did when he thought no one was watching. The person in that photo can’t be trusted to lead. Governor Northam must resign immediately.”

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