By Saffeya Ahmed
Across the political spectrum, government officials and advocacy groups are calling for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation after media reports of a racist photo on his page in a college yearbook.
The photo, from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook, features two men — one dressed in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam publicly apologized for the photo and the costumes that were “clearly racist and offensive.” But he did not mention which costume he was in.
“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo,” Northam said in a statement Friday, “and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.”
State Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, said Northam called her Saturday morning, saying he does not think the photo is of him. He also said he would not resign, according to Lucas.
Members from both sides of the aisle have denounced Northam’s photo and demand he resign. Virginia Democrats, House and Senate Republican leaders and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued statements on Northam’s yearbook photos.
“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,” said a statement issued by House Speaker Kirk Cox and other Republicans.
“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.”
Democratic leaders agreed.
Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia, issued a statement today calling for Northam’s immediate resignation.
“We made the decision to let Gov. Northam do the correct thing and resign this morning — we have gotten word he will not do so this morning. We stand with Democrats across Virginia and the country calling him to immediately resign. He no longer has our confidence or our support.”
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe denounced the photo on Twitter, calling the photos “racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age an any time.” He said Northam should resign, deeming the situation “untenable.”
Several advocacy groups are also calling on Northam to leave office.
“It is almost impossible to identify images more damaging to the soul than those in Ralph Northam’s yearbook,” said Luis Aguilar, Virginia director of CASA in Action, in a statement. “He has apologized and said he is a changed person. But it doesn’t mean he is an appropriate governor.”
New Virginia Majority, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Progress Virginia are among other groups that have called for Northam to step down because of the photo.
“No matter the era, or the messenger, blackface costumes and Ku Klux Klan regalia have represented terror and fear for communities of color since Reconstruction,” said Harrison Wallace, Virginia director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in a statement. “There is no excuse for wearing them.”
This morning, protesters gathered in front of the Executive Mansion, the governor’s residence on Capitol Square, demanding that Northam resign. The governor plans to provide a statement about the controversy at 2:30 p.m. today.