NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — In less than a week, a cascade of revelations and allegations involving race and sex has rocked Virginia state government to its foundations.
Gov. Ralph Northam is facing a torrent of calls to resign. First, a racist photo surfaced last week from his medical school yearbook page. Northam has denied being in the photo but acknowledged wearing blackface at a dance party.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax faces uncorroborated allegations of sexual assault that became public Monday. And Attorney General Mark Herring said Wednesday that he wore blackface in college. Herring would be next in line to become governor, should Fairfax replace Northam. All three men are Democrats.
Here are five things to know about the chaos in Virginia’s capital:
1. CASCADE OF CONTROVERSIES BEGAN WITH LATE-TERM ABORTION BILL
Northam’s 1984 yearbook for Eastern Virginia Medical School sat unnoticed in the school’s public library for decades. The future governor’s half-page profile shows multiple photos, including an image of a man in blackface standing beside someone in full Ku Klux Klan robes.
The picture finally drew public attention last week, triggered by Democrats’ push to loosen restrictions on late-term abortions.
In a video that went viral, Democratic Del. Kathy Tran acknowledged the legislation would allow abortions up until moments before birth. Northam, a Democrat and pediatric neurologist, added fuel to the fire in a radio interview, discussing a hypothetical situation involving late-term abortions and fetuses that may have severe deformities or are nonviable.
A “concerned citizen” upset by Northam’s comments tipped off the conservative news site, Big League Politics about the yearbook photo. The website published photos of the 1984 yearbook on Friday.
2. NORTHAM SAID HE WORE BLACKFACE AT A DANCE PARTY
The governor apologized for the photo, but by Saturday, he had reversed course . In a news conference, he said the racist photo did not feature him after all. He said it could have been a mix-up in a yearbook that contained multiple mistakes. (Former classmates disagree on that likelihood).
But Northam acknowledged that he wore blackface in a different setting around that time. He used shoe polish to darken his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume that he wore for a 1984 dance contest in San Antonio, Texas, when he was in the U.S. Army.
Northam said he regrets that he didn’t understand “the harmful legacy of an action like that.”
His news conference intensified calls for him to resign.
3. LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR FACES UNCORROBORATED SEXUAL ASSAULT ALLEGATIONS
The sense of crises deepened Monday when an uncorroborated allegation of sexual misconduct surfaced against Fairfax, the lieutenant governor.
Fairfax denies the allegation, which was first reported by Big League Politics, the conservative website. The Democrat told reporters that the 2004 encounter with a woman was consensual, and he called the accusation a political “smear.”
Vanessa Tyson issued a statement Wednesday saying Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. The Associated Press typically does not identify people who say they were sexually assaulted, but Tyson issued the statement in her name.
Tyson said she went to Fairfax’s hotel room so he could get documents. She said they began consensually kissing but he then forced her into oral sex.
Fairfax issued a statement Wednesday reiterating that he had a consensual encounter with the woman. He said he was an unmarried law student at the time.
“At no time did she express to me any discomfort or concern about our interactions, neither during that encounter, nor during the months following it, when she stayed in touch with me, nor the past 15 years,” Fairfax said.
Tyson has not responded to messages from The AP seeking further comment.
4. VIRGINIA’S ATTORNEY GENERAL SAID HE ALSO WORE BLACKFACE
Leading Democrats’ troubles escalated Wednesday. Herring, the attorney general, acknowledgedputting on blackface in the 1980s when he was in college at the University of Virginia. The Democrat’s admission comes just days after he called on Northam to step down.
The 57-year-old said he wore brown makeup and a wig to look like a rapper during a party as a 19-year-old. He said he was “deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation.”
He said that in the days ahead, “honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general.”
The chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Lamont Bagby, said its members need time to process the news about the attorney general: “We’ve got a lot to digest.”
5. GOVERNOR’S OFFICE HAS BEEN VIRTUALLY FROZEN DURING LEGISLATURE’S BUSIEST WEEK
The Northam hullabaloo erupted right before one of the busiest days in Virginia’s Legislature
Tuesday was “crossover day,” when the House and Senate must finish bills to send to the other chamber. But negotiations between the governor’s office and Republican leaders were suspended. Northam’s office had been in the middle of talks with lawmakers over a major tax overhaul and changes to the state budget.
He wasn’t making any of his usual public appearances. He issued a statement Tuesday offering condolences on the killing of a state trooper in a shootout. It was met with a flurry of Twitter comments urging him to resign.