“The true measure of leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” John Maxwell
After watching the events involving Governor Ralph Northam unfold over the past few days, I issued a statement expressing my disappointment as an elected mayor and military veteran and asked for him to resign.
Service is a privilege granted by the people we serve. Some will question: Why should a man lose his job for something that happened more than 34 years ago? And some would dispute his knowledge of the picture. Whether the governor is or is not featured in the photo, his behavior was unacceptable and unbecoming of a leader.
It is clear that the photos displayed on his yearbook page, along with his decision to appear in blackface at a dance contest, serve as an endorsement of behavior that has long been seen as objectionable in a post-Civil Rights era. Furthermore, the governor’s ability to offer a seemingly sincere apology one day, only to hold a press conference denying his involvement in the photo the next, shows a lack of trust.
Once the public loses trust, a necessary trait that every public servant should possess, influence is lost. And if a leader doesn't have anyone following, then whom are they leading? For him to remain governor in title but not in position is to slow down the progress of our great commonwealth.
Just last year in Dumfries, we had the Ku Klux Klan threaten a church by leaving letters taped to the door. In these contentious times, where there are a growing number of reports regarding hate crimes and an increase in hate groups, it’s imperative that both the work and the character of our political leaders are representative of our community values.
Needless to say, I do not believe the racist and violent imagery presented in the photograph on Gov. Northam’s yearbook page, nor his choice to appear in blackface at a dance contest, is indicative of those values. While we all make mistakes and should be given the time and space to learn from them, there must also be consequences for mistakes that perpetuate violence against people of marginalized identities.
Now that the pictures have surfaced, and he has confessed to wearing blackface, many of his supporters, myself included, are rescinding our vote and would appreciate it if he would do the right thing and step aside so that we can move Virginia forward.
The writer is a Democrat and the second black mayor of Dumfries, the oldest continously chartered town in Virginia.