Virginia Gov. Northam Claims He's 'Not the Person' in Racist Photo and Won't Resign

The embattled politician announced he won't resign from office in a press conference on Saturday

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty

Although Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam previously apologized for a racist photo featured in his college yearbook, the Democratic politician has since denied being in the image and announced he will not resign from office.

During a press conference on Saturday, Northam claimed that although he had initially taken responsibility for a resurfaced photo from his medical school yearbook page — which appeared to show the politician and another person wearing racist costumes — upon reflection, he determined he was not in the image.

“When I was confronted with the images yesterday I was appalled that they appeared on my page, but I believe then and now, that I am not either of the people in that photo,” he said during the press conference.

“I stand by my statement of apology to the many Virginians who were hurt by seeing this content on a yearbook page that belongs to me. It is disgusting. It is offensive. It is racist. And it was my responsibility to recognize and prevent it from being published in the first place,” he continued.

Acknowledging the fact that “many people will find this difficult to believe,” Northam explained that although he initially “conceded” to being in the image, after reflecting with family members and classmates, he was able to affirm his belief “that I am not the person in that photo.”

He went on to add that his belief “stems in part from my clear memory of other mistakes I made in this same period of my life.”

“That same year I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume. I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that,” he continued. “It is because my memory of that episode is that vivid that I truly do not believe I am in the picture in my yearbook. You remember these things.”

Northam went on to share that he was committed to staying in office, although many have called on his resignation.

“If I were to listen to the voices calling on me to resign my office today, I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead,” he remarked, before adding, “I took an oath to uphold this office and service the people of this commonwealth to the best of my ability — as long as I believe I can effectively fulfill that task, I intend to continue doing the business of Virginia.”

Prior to the press conference, reports from the New York Times, CNN and NBC News indicated that the governor had been calling state Democrats on Saturday to deny the photo was of him and declare that he was not going to resign.

The Democratic Party of Virginia released a statement on Saturday, confirming they had been told that morning that Northam would not be resigning, despite their belief that he should do so immediately.

Win McNamee/Getty

On Friday, a photo from Northam’s medical school yearbook was resurfaced, appearing to show the politician and another person wearing racist costumes — with one dressed in blackface and another wearing KKK robes, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

The outlet reported that the photo, which appeared in the 1984 yearbook for Eastern Virginia Medical School, was found in a half-page design dedicated to Northam. The three other pictures on the page consisted of a headshot, a photo of him wearing cowboy boots and another of him leaning against a car.

Northam previously apologized for being in the photograph in two statements released on Friday, one of which he delivered in a video message.

“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” he wrote in his initial statement. “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.”

“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,” he added.

In a second statement, posted on his official Twitter page, Northam said that he believed his constituents deserved to “hear directly from me.”

“That photo and the racist and offensive attitudes it represents, does not reflect that person I am today, or the way that I have conducted myself as a soldier, a doctor and a public servant. I am deeply sorry,” he shared. “I cannot change the decisions I made, nor can I undo the harm my behavior caused then and today. But I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust.”

“I have spent the past year as your governor fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people. I am committed to continuing that fight through the remainder of my term and living up to the expectations you set for me when you elected me to serve. Thank you,” he added.

Still, many are calling for Northam to resign.

In a statement released on Saturday, Democratic Party of Virginia Chair Susan Swecker called for his “immediate resignation.”

“We stand with Democrats across Virginia and the country calling him to immediately resign. He no longer has our confidence or our support. Governor Northam must end this chapter immediately, step down, and let Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax heal Virginia’s wounds and move us forward. We can think of no better person than Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to do so,” the statement continued.

The Virginia Black Legislative Caucus also released a statement on Friday night, supporting the push for Northam to resign.

In a previous statement, the VBLC called the image “disgusting, reprehensible, and offensive.”

“We feel complete betrayal,” the statement continued. “The legacy of slavery, racism and Jim Crow has been an albatross around the necks of African Americans for over 400 years. These pictures rip off the scabs of an excruciatingly painful history and are a piercing reminder of this nation’s sins.”

Republican Party of Virginia chairman Jack Wilson also released a statement calling on Northam to resign, writing, “Racism has no place in Virginia,” according to The Virginian-Pilot.

Politicians from across the country have also spoken out against Northam.

“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,” wrote Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

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,” added California Sen. Kamala Harris.

NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson tweeted, “Black face in any manner is always racist and never okay. No matter the party affiliation, we can not stand for such behavior.”

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The photo was first published online Friday afternoon by conservative website Big League Politics.

One week earlier, Northam was criticized for his comments defending a piece of failed legislation that would have cut down on the numbers of doctors, from three to one, required to approve late-term abortions, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

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