In an almost unprecedented show of unity, Prince William County’s elected officials issued statements this week calling on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to resign over the offensive photograph that appeared in his 1984 medical school yearbook.
The sentiments came from all levels of government and across the political spectrum -- from the local board of supervisors to the county’s representatives in Congress.
Democrats make up the majority of Prince William’s delegtion in the state legislature – holding 10 of the 13 seats that represent parts of the county – and led the charge to demand that Northam step down despite the governor’s denial Saturday that appeared in the photo, which depicted one person in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan hood.
Northam issued an apology Friday, Feb. 1, saying he was “deeply sorry” for appearing in one of the costumes – he didn’t say which one– but then changed his position on Saturday, saying he is now convinced he was neither person in the picture.
State Del. Luke Torian, Prince William County’s most senior Democratic state delegate, joined the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus in calling for Northam’s resignation Friday, as did Dels. Hala Ayala, D-51st, Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-2nd, and Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st.
After Northam’s press conference, Torian said the governor’s comments were “not enough” and he again called on Northam to step down.
“The governor should have known at 25 years of age that the picture on his yearbook page and his use of blackface at a contest are imagery meant to demean, threaten and intimidate the African-American community,” Torian said in a statement.
GOP, congressional members speak out
The Republican Party of Virginia called for Northam’s resignation Friday. On Saturday, both the GOP House and Senate caucuses chimed in with statements calling for the same.
“The confidence of the people is essential to a governor being able to serve effectively. It is clear to us that Governor Northam no longer holds that confidence,” the GOP Senate Caucus said in a statement.
“We agree with the powerful words of our colleagues in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and believe that because of that photo, the governor has lost confidence in the citizens he serves,” the GOP House Caucus statement said.
Virginia’s two Democratic U.S. senators weighed in Saturday night, calling on him to resign.
Together with Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine released a statement at 6:44 p.m. Saturday, saying Northam can no longer effectively serve as governor.
“After we watched his press conference today, we called Governor Northam to tell him that we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign,” the statement said.
“Governor Northam has served the people of the Commonwealth faithfully for many years, but the events of the past 24 hours have inflicted immense pain and irrevocably broken the trust Virginians must have in their leaders. He should step down and allow the Commonwealth to begin healing.”
U.S. Reps. Gerald Connolly (11th) and Don Beyer (8th) released a statement at 3:45 p.m. Saturday that said Northam’s resignation is “the only way forward for the commonwealth.”
“Virginia has a painful past where racism was too often not called out for its evil,” the statement said. “The only way to overcome that history is to speak and act with absolute moral clarity. It is for that reason the governor must step aside and allow the process of healing to begin under the leadership of Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax.”
Dumfries Mayor Derrick Wood was the first local Democratic elected official to call for Northam’s resignation Friday, Feb. 1.
“It doesn’t matter if blackface was done in college or a dance contest, it’s blackface,” Wood said.
On the Prince William Board of Supervisors, calls for Northam’s resignation were posted by Republican Supervisors Marty Nohe (Coles), Jeanine Lawson (Brentsville) and Ruth Anderson (Occoquan), as well as Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge.
Lawson and Anderson’s statements mentioned not only the photo but Northam’s expressed support for a failed bill that would have loosened restrictions on late-term abortions, which are legal in Virginia but must be endorsed by three doctors. The bill, sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran, D-42nd, would have reduced that requirement to one doctor.
Northam said in a radio interview Jan. 30 he believes at least two doctors are needed. But he also described a late-term abortion scenario that led some to believe he supports the abortion up until birth. Northam later denied that characterization of his remarks, calling them “disgusting.”
“There is no place for racism in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Anderson said. “I am also extremely disappointed in his support of legislation that would make [third] trimester abortions an easy process in VA.”
In his statement, Principi mentioned his efforts to rename Jefferson Davis Highway and Stonewall Jackson High School in Prince William County.
“As someone who has fought to rid Prince William of the Confederate symbols that serve as ugly reminders of harm against this community, I strongly condemn his past action,” Principi wrote.
Reach Jill Palermo at email@example.com.