Virginia Dems Sorry for 'Rush to Judgment' Against Northam

Lt. Gov. Fairfax and Gov. Northam / Getty Images
April 10, 2019

Virginia Democrats called for Gov. Ralph Northam to resign while he was in the middle of a racist photo imbroglio, but now they're apologizing.

At the Leadership Center for Excellence's annual legislative breakfast last week, several members of the Virginia House of Delegates expressed regrets for their "rush to judgment" against Northam, InsideNoVa reports. They said the experience, in which Democrats futilely demanded Northam resign over racist photos in his medical school yearbook, was an opportunity for them to learn more about politics.

"There were a lot of life lessons," said state senator Janet Howell about the chaos that erupted in Virginia politics when Northam's photo came out and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D.) was accused of sexual assault. The chief "life lesson" she learned was "Don't rush to judgment."

Northam shocked political analysts everywhere in February when he refused to resign after it was discovered his medical school yearbook page showed a picture of a pair of people, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Given his name was on the page, it was assumed Northam was one of the shrouded individuals, and he even responded with an apology before reversing himself and declaring he was definitely not in the photo.

Local Democrats and national figures condemned Northam, but after other scandals emerged around the two Democrats next in line to become governor, the whole matter "just went poof," as a New York Times headline put it, quoting a Virginia librarian. At the leadership breakfast, Democratic politicians said they were sorry they got caught up in the media conflagration without reaching out to the governor.

"I'm sorry we did," said Howell, who also pilloried national Democratic leaders and presidential candidates for weighing in, early and sometimes loudly, on the Virginia situation. ("Ignore them," Howell advised.)

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st), who was among those to call for resignations only later to backtrack, acknowledged legislators were caught up in a media firestorm. "Statements were made before people even talked to the governor," said Favola, who long has been an ally of Northam.

"It was like a snowball coming at you, bigger and bigger and bigger," Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) said of the frenzy that hit Richmond in February, the heart of the legislative session.

Northam, for his part, defended himself by saying his memory of a separate incident of blackface proves he is correct not to recall being in the infamous photo, promising to find proof of his absence. Fairfax's scandal soon eclipsed Northam's, as he fought the allegation of sexual assault. Fairfax has called for an investigation and consistently maintained his innocence.

Strangely, the person behind Northam and Fairfax to assume the governorship, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, got caught up in his own blackface scandal. He also has not resigned.

The Democratic legislators said the state legislature had a productive session despite it all.

"It ended up being very productive," said Del. Rip Sullivan, even though it was in a "heartbreaking and surreal" environment. He said the lesson of all of it was that they should have chosen to "take a breath."

"We all want Virginia to be a better place," said Del. Alfonso Lopez.

Published under: Ralph Northam , Virginia