Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) now says he no longer believes he is the person shown in racist photos appearing on his medical school yearbook page, and is refusing to resign over the firestorm, news reports said on Saturday.
Northam is pushing back against a growing chorus demanding his resignation, including from within his Democratic party, after a photo from his medical school yearbook page surfaced showing two men, one in blackface and another in a KKK robe and hood.
Northam issued written and videotaped statements late Friday, saying he was “deeply sorry” for his decision to appear in the photo that appeared in his 1984 medical school yearbook and acknowledging “hurt that decision caused then and now.”
The images, first released by a conservative news site Big League Politics, caused a firestorm, and led officials in his party and around the nation to demand his resignation.
Several news outlets, including the Washington Post, reported early Saturday that Northam had met that morning with top Democratic officials in his state and informed them that he no longer believes that he was either of the people shown in the racist picture.
No reason was given to explain what led to the governor’s apparent change of thinking, but The Post reported that Northam told senior Virginia Democrats that he believes there was a mix-up when the yearbook was produced and someone else’s photographs ended up on his page.
Northam is planning to make a statement the governor’s mansion at 2:30 p.m. Saturday to address the controversy.
The Virginia Democratic party, however, stood by its call for Northam to resign.
We made the decision to let Governor Northam do the correct thing and resign this morning – we have gotten word he will not do so this morning.
— Virginia Democrats (@vademocrats) February 2, 2019
The page in a medical school yearbook page dedicated to Northam showed four photos, including a headshot, a picture of him in a cowboy hat and boots, and a third of him leaning against a convertible.
A fourth photo on the page is of two people, both holding canned beverages. One person is wearing a white Ku Klux Klan robe and a hood, while the other is in blackface, wearing a white hat, black jacket, white shirt with a bow tie, and plaid pants.
The name of Northam’s alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, and his medical school focus, pediatrics, are listed under the photo.
Northam acknowledged Friday that he was pictured in the photo, but did not say which man was him. He also vowed to serve out the remaining three years of his term.
“This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine and in public service,” Northam said in a statement.
“But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment. I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their governor.”
If he were to resign, Northam would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who would become only the fourth African-American governor in the United States since the reconstruction era.