Since news broke Friday afternoon on Big League Politics alleging Gov. Ralph Northam appeared in a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page, he has faced increasing pressure to resign.
While Northam (D) issued an apology for the 35-year-old photo Friday night, he changed course on Saturday, saying he was not in the photo in question. Later, he admitted to darkening his face to imitate Michael Jackson for a 1984 dance contest but said he would not resign and vowed instead to work toward rebuilding trust with the people of Virginia.
As of Monday afternoon, Northam apparently remains steadfast in his refusal to step down. With a heavy heart, we disagree with that decision and urge him to resign.
Northam has had a highly successful first year in office. Medicaid expansion, which he personally led, is now providing health care to more than 200,000 additional low-income Virginians. Virginia has maintained its historically low unemployment numbers during his term, and Amazon selected Northern Virginia for one of its new headquarters, a deal expected to bring an estimated 25,000 high-paying jobs to the region over the next decade.
Well-liked in both parties, Northam has struck deals across the aisle on several key issues, most recently a pledge from Dominion to recycle or safely bury Virginia’s 27 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash, some of which is sitting on the banks of the Potomac River in Prince William County. Northam also announced last week a deal with Transurban to extend toll lanes to Fredericksburg while addressing a major bottleneck on Interstate 95 near the Occoquan bridge.
Northam has spoken out forcefully against white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville and in favor of letting localities make decisions about their Confederate monuments. He threw himself fully into the mid-term elections. In short, he’s been an exemplary governor.
We must tread carefully when considering political death penalties for behavior 30 years in the past because we all deserve forgiveness for mistakes when it is sought. We all have past indiscretions. From them, we change, learn and grow. The Fauquier Times’ own offices were used by George Wallace as his Virginia campaign headquarters in 1968, which is certainly not consistent with where this newspaper or community stand today.
But while we believe Northam is an honorable man who has done good things for Virginia – and not the man he was in 1984 -- this is about the future. Would Amazon have chosen Virginia if it knew these pictures were on the governor's yearbook page? Would black voters — a key constituency to Northam's win — vote for him again knowing what they know now?
Whether he appeared in the photo in question or not, his clear need to issue an apology, and his subsequent handling of that apology, have left many who considered him an ally to feel betrayed.
Those pictures are impossible to “unsee” or forget. They represent a time when white institutions at all levels of society kept black people outside the structures of power, in part by caricaturing them with blackface.
In his apology, Northam spoke of rebuilding trust. While we obviously encourage that in his personal journey, the place to do it is not in the commonwealth’s highest office. He faces and almost universal calls to resign. His governorship is compromised.
Ralph Northam has done much for Virginia, and now he must again. For the good of the commonwealth, he must step down. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is a capable man to repair those rifts and help the state move forward.
Editor’s note: We are aware that an allegation of sexual misconduct against Mr. Fairfax, stemming from 15 years ago, has resurfaced and is now the subject of news reports, including on our website. Mr. Fairfax has strongly denied the accusation. Until more is known, we stand by our original editorial.