Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said Sunday that Ralph Northam (D) must resign, becoming the latest in a stampede of high profile officials abandoning the embattled governor after a right-wing website published a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook.
“Once that picture with the blackface and klansman came out there is no way you can continue to be the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Northam at a bizarre press conference Saturday said that he does not believe he was pictured in the photo, which shows two men, one in Ku Klux Klan attire and another in blackface.
He had hoped that his implausible explanation — that he first believed the picture to be him, but mere hours later realized that he had been mistaken — would stymie calls for him to resign.
The opposite has proved to be the case. Shortly after the press conference, several prominent Virginia politicians joined a growing chorus urging him to step down.
In a joint statement, Virginia U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) said late Saturday, “we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign.”
Before the press conference, former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder said that he believed it was up to Northam whether he decides to resign, adding however that “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.”
Wilder, the first African American ever to serve as a governor in the United States, changed his view after watching Saturday’s spectacle.
“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,” he said.
The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), California Democrat Karen Bass, also condemned Northam, telling Meet the Press that the governor “still does not understand the seriousness of his actions.”
Bass was joined on the panel by CBC Whip Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), who said that when he spoke to Northam on Friday, the governor apologized for the photo.
“So I was really surprised when the next day he comes out and says it’s not him.”
Although Northam initially apologized for the photo on Friday, he backtracked at Saturday’s press conference, telling reporters that not only is he not pictured in the photo, but that he had never seen it before being confronted with it late last week.
He said there was at least one other occasion when he appeared in blackface — a dance contest that same year during which he dressed up as Michael Jackson. Although he couldn’t explain why, he also acknowledged that he was called “Coonman” by his classmates. The nickname appears to reference a derogatory term for African Americans.
McAuliffe predicted that Northam will resign “relatively soon.”
“Ralph is a good, moral, decent man. And may have made some mistakes in his past. We all have made mistakes,” he said. “Ralph will do the right thing for the commonwealth of Virginia. He will put Virginia first. And I think that will happen relatively soon.”