Virginia governor refuses to quit, now denies being in racist yearbook photo

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Saturday resisted mounting pressure from his Democratic party that he resign, denying that he appeared in a racist yearbook photo while admitting he once wore blackface in a dance contest.

Northam, who took office a year ago, said he would stay in his job. “As long as I feel that I can lead, I will continue to do that,” he said.

Northam had apologized on Friday, saying he was one of the people shown in the photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook, which depicted one person in blackface standing next to another in a Ku Klux Klan costume.

But on Saturday he said he looked at the photo more carefully and is sure it was not him. In a news conference alongside his wife, Northam said he had made other mistakes, including dressing up in blackface to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest around the same time.

“I actually won the contest because I had learned to do the moonwalk,” Northam said, referring to a dance move made famous in part by famed U.S. singer Michael Jackson.

Northam apologized for his past actions and vowed to work to earn forgiveness.

“I am simply asking for the opportunity to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person I was is not the man I am today,” Northam said.

Northam’s press conference appears unlikely to quell the growing pressure from within his party for him to resign.

Even as Northam was speaking, Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said it was time for him to step aside.

“Virginians and people across the country deserve better from their leaders, and it is clear that Ralph Northam has lost their trust and his ability to govern,” Perez said in a statement.

Democratic U.S. Representatives Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer of Virginia said in a joint statement that they had not heard anything that changed their view that Northam should resign.

Earlier in the day, others also called on him to step down.

Demonstrators hold signs and chant outside the Governors Mansion at the Capitol in Richmond on Saturday. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

“Gov. Northam has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately,” former vice-president Joe Biden, a Democrat weighing a 2020 presidential run, said on Twitter.

Protesters gathered in front of his office in Richmond, Va., waving signs demanding he step down.

The head of Northam’s party in the state also called on him to quit.

Other prominent Democrats — including 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Julian Castro — have been calling on Northam to resign since Friday.

Northam, a 59-year-old pediatric neurologist and Army veteran, graduated from Norfolk medical school in 1984.

The Virginia-Pilot, which published the photo on Friday, said on its website it obtained a copy of the photo from the Eastern Virginia Medical School library.


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