Virginia governor Ralph Northam has come to his final decision: he will not resign from office over allegations he posed in blackface in a yearbook photo from the mid-1980s.
Instead, Northam, in his first one-on-one interview since the scandal broke last week, says he will finish out his term, where he will “pursue an agenda of racial reconciliation and ‘equity,'” reports Fortune magazine.
Northam reportedly spoke to The Washington Post for 30 minutes from the parlor of the Virginia governor’s mansion, and resolved to allow the issue to pass. He told reporters that he’s asked his Cabinet to come up with suggestions on how he can improve his commitment to eliminating racial bias within the state of Virginia, and “address issues of inequality” in various state programs.
“It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do,” Northam told the Post. “There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity.”
“It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes,” Northam added.
That may not satisfy Virginians, who, according to recent polls, are thoroughly divided on whether Northam should step down from office.
“Almost half of Virginians … say Northam should step down, while the same percentage said he should remain in office,” the Hill reports. “More than half of Republicans questioned – 56 percent – said he should resign, pollsters found, a sentiment echoed by 40 percent of Democrats.”
Around 47% of all Virginia voters say Northam has reached the end of the line. More than 60% of the state’s African American voters believe Northam should step down immediately.
The trouble for Northam began two weeks ago when, after commenting on his approval of a partial-birth abortion bill, information leaked that the governor had posed for a racially insensitive picture during his time in medical school. The photo, available in Northam’s yearbook, showed two individuals, one dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and one dressed in “minstrel-show” style blackface.
Northam is identified as one of the men in the photo — the picture actually appears on his “profile” page in the yearbook — but, despite an early apology and vague admission, he denies that he dressed up as either character. And after toying with the idea of resigning for more than a week, Northam has apparently come to a decision not to step down.
Part of the issue may be that Northam is not the only prominent Democrat in Virginia state government to be hit with allegations of misbehavior. The state’s Attorney General also admitted to donning blackface for a party in the 1980s, and the state’s Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, has been hit with two allegations of sexual assault, both of which appear, so far, to be credible. Fairfax has denied the allegations.
Fairfax appears the mostly likely to lose his job, however. The Virginia Democratic Party has called on Fairfax to resign, and one Democratic Virginia legislator says he will introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax if a resolution on the issue is not reached this week.