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Bipartisan Call For Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam To Resign Over Racist Photos


This much is known right now. The governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, is pictured in a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook. That photo surfaced online and in local media yesterday afternoon. It shows one person in blackface, another in KKK garb. Mr. Northam is a Democrat. He said last night that is him in the photo - he didn't say which one - and issued a video where he says he hopes to repair the damage.


RALPH NORTHAM: 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.

SIMON: But calls for his resignation have begun to flood in, including from many prominent Democrats in Virginia and across the country. NPR's Sarah McCammon is in Virginia Beach. Sarah, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: We just heard the governor talk about finishing out his term, but, I have to say, I don't know of any single prominent voice in the public who has so far said, yeah, you should do that.

MCCAMMON: Right. He is getting calls from both sides of the aisle nationally and here in Virginia to step down. I just want to talk about a few of those, Scott. Perhaps the most notable is his ally and friend, former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who is also a Democrat. Northam served as McAuliffe's lieutenant governor. McAuliffe tweeted late last night that this has been a heartbreaking day, as he put it, but he said that Northam's actions were unacceptable, racist and inexcusable and called for him to step down.

Also, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus initially came out with a statement saying that this felt like a betrayal and then, after meeting with Northam, issued another statement calling for him to resign. The Congressional Black Caucus has also asked him to resign and tweeted, Ralph Northam has had three decades to know better, but only now does he acknowledge this racist act.

SIMON: And this photo, it's not like it was dredged up from obscurity. This was in his medical school yearbook, right?

MCCAMMON: Indeed, it was. And there's been a lot of talk about how opposition research missed this during the election back in 2017. Regardless, it surfaced on the conservative website Big League Politics and was pretty quickly confirmed by other media, including NPR. And it was in Northam's med school yearbook at Eastern Virginia Medical School where he graduated in 1984. It's not clear which person he is in the photo. But either way, it looks like blackface and a KKK costume. He's apologized for that and acknowledged, you know, that it is him. The medical school commented, just saying that there isn't a lot of information that they can provide about something that happened 35 years ago, but this was definitely a student-run yearbook.

SIMON: In other words, students get to pick their own pictures?

MCCAMMON: It sounds that way.

SIMON: Does he last the weekend, if I might put it that way? What happens?

MCCAMMON: Well, it was already a tough week for Northam. There was a big controversy over a statement he made about abortion this week. This comes on the heels of that. So far, the governor's office has been tight-lipped about what's next other than these apologies. But he is facing an onslaught of calls to resign. If he were to resign, he would be replaced by Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is African-American and a rising star in the Democratic Party here. But we have to see what will happen. This story has moved quickly, and we'll see what the day brings, whether Northam decides to try to go ahead and ride this out or resign.

SIMON: NPR's Sarah McCammon speaking with us from Virginia Beach, Va. Thanks so much for being with us, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.