Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) said in a statement Wednesday that he wore blackface during a college party in the 1980s, in what he claimed was a “onetime occurrence.”
The development comes as both Gov. Ralph Northam and Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax are facing criticism over their own past behavior.
“In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song. It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup,” he said.
“This was a onetime occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct,” he added.
Please see my statement below. pic.twitter.com/FBDcgxHOq9
— Mark Herring (@MarkHerringVA) February 6, 2019
The announcement is another blow for Virginia Democrats, who are currently wrestling with another blackface scandal. Earlier this month, Northam faced heavy criticism after the conservative site Big League Politics posted a photo from the governor’s Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page, which featured a man in black makeup standing next to a man in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam initially apologized for the photo, saying he did not remember dressing up in either costume, but later walked back his remarks, claiming he was certain neither of the men in the photo were him.
Both Democrats and Republicans at the state and national level have since called for Northam’s resignation.
Fairfax, who is next in line for the governor’s seat should Northam resign, is currently facing his own set of problems. Not long after reports of Northam’s yearbook page surfaced, Fairfax was accused in another Big League Politics report of sexually assaulting a woman during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. The woman posted a private Facebook status shortly after reports of Northam’s photo came out, writing that she was concerned he would be taking over the state’s top leadership position.
Fairfax denied the woman’s account, claiming their interaction had been consensual. In a statement Wednesday, he apologized for his initial response to the allegation, which some criticized as overly defensive and insensitive to the woman herself, saying, “…While this allegation has been both surprising and hurtful, I also recognize that no one makes charges of this kind lightly, and I take it and this situation very seriously.”
Should both Northam and Fairfax resign their posts, Herring would be next in line for the governorship. Already, he is facing separate calls to step down, as a result of Wednesday’s announcement.
As The Washington Post noted this week, Herring and Fairfax were both seen as popular candidates to replace Northam once his term is up in 2021. If they choose to step aside, it could make room for Republicans to secure a hold on state politics once more, with Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox next in line for the top spot.
Cox, who called on Northam to resign, has been hesitant in calling for the governor’s removal, though he admitted in early February that, “regardless of the veracity of the photo,” Northam had lost Virginians’ trust.
“I have worked with the governor,” he said at the time. “We’ve certainly not agreed on everything. I would say that this is just heartbreaking.”