Sat | Mar 28, 2020

Governor survives blackface scandal

Published:Friday | May 24, 2019 | 12:27 AM


The mystery of whether Governor Ralph Northam was in the racist yearbook photo that upended Virginia politics may never be solved, but one thing is clear: The governor has survived what many initially thought was a fatal blow and has managed to return to something resembling normal.

Since a picture surfaced in February from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page showing a man in blackface standing next to someone in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe, Northam has managed to fend off demands for his resignation.

He’s even won praise from black lawmakers for such moves as ending the suspension of driver’s licences for unpaid fines and ordering a review of how schools teach America’s racial history.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes out of the administration,” said Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, a member of the black caucus and a rising star in her party who is considering a statewide run in 2021.

Stephen Morris, an African American from Suffolk, reacted with a shrug Wednesday after attorneys hired by Eastern Virginia Medical School said they couldn’t “conclusively determine” the identities of either person in the 35-year-old photo.

“I don’t take it to be a big thing. As long as he’s doing the right thing with our government, I don’t think he should leave office at all,” Morris said.

Such a muted response is a far cry from a few months ago when Northam’s clumsy response to the picture caused a major uproar. The Democrat initially acknowledged he was in the photo and apologised, then reversed course the next day, saying he was not in it.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the state House Democratic Caucus, the state Senate Democratic Caucus, the Democratic Party of Virginia, and every Virginia Democrat in Congress called on Northam to resign. So did Democratic presidential hopefuls and several key progressive groups that have been some of the governor’s closest political allies.

“People he naively thought were friends didn’t even make a phone call to at least tell the governor they were going to call for his resignation,” Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer, told lawyers investigating the yearbook picture.