Embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam will not step down, he told his cabinet late Monday, because he says admitting to wearing blackface in medical school would brand him a racist for life.
Northam has been reportedly toying with the idea of resigning as Virginia’s governor since Friday, after a photo surfaced allegedly of him and another medical school classmate dressed to attend a costume party, one as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and one in “minstrel show style” blackface.
Initially Northam apologized for the photo and it seemed he would resign to begin a typical character rehabilitation process. Then, on Saturday, he held a press conference in which he claimed the photo was not of him but that he had donned blackface once to attend a costume party as Michael Jackson.
Sunday, Northam huddled with his top aides and a number of minority staffers after receiving what sources called “conflicting” advice on whether to resign his position.
Monday morning, Northam confronted his cabinet members and reportedly told them he would not resign as expected because resigning was tantamount to an admission that he engaged in racist behavior, and he does not want to be branded a “racist” for life.
CNN reports that Northam “begged” for his cabinet’s support.
“Northam oversaw a regularly scheduled Cabinet meeting Monday morning that a source inside the meeting described as ‘solemn,'” CNN said. “According to that source, the governor specifically said that if he resigns, he would be resigning as a ‘racist for life,; and that the only way he can clear his name is to stay in office and convince people that he is not in that photo and that the photo does not represent who he is.”
In turn, the cabinet members reported to mainstream media sources that they are “struggling” with the situation, and that while they believe Northam is not a racist, they do not see how he can weather the situation, particularly given that he cannot explain the origins of the now-infamous blackface photo.
Northam reportedly petitioned his cabinet to give him time, but also told cabinet members that the decision to rally around the embattled governor was up to them.
Northam would hardly be the first politician to try to “ride out” a scandal, and he may be the luckiest yet. Tuesday night, the media’s attention will shift dramatically to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech, and if Trump doesn’t remind the nation about Northam’s alleged transgressions, Northam may slowly wend his way out of the news cycle without much in the way of long-term harm.
He also has an ace in the hole: his Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is struggling with allegations of his own, that he sexually assaulted a former acquaintance some years ago. Fairfax denies the allegations, but Fox News reports that his accuser is prepared to litigate the situation in the public eye, and has hired the law firm that represented Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault from when the pair were teenagers in suburban Washington, D.C..
The allegations are so convenient for Northam that on Monday, Fairfax accused the governor of leaking the story himself in an effort to protect his position.