Virginia governor Ralph Northam on Saturday attempted to stave off the raging ccontroversy surrounding a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page showing one individual in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood, calling the photo “disgusting” and “racist.”
“My first impression was that this couldn’t be me,” the Democratic governor said at a press conference in Richmond. “It is definitely not me.”
“When I was confronted with the images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page, but I believed then and now that I am not either of the people in that photo,” he said, adding that he did not purchase the yearbook and was “unaware of what was on my page.”
Northam, who was elected in 2017, faced excoriating criticism this week and calls from Republicans and Democrats to step down after the shocking photo on his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page from 1984 surfaced.
He made clear Saturday he has no intention of resigning, saying it would be the easy path for him but would avoid having an honest conversation about the issue.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia House and Senate Democrats, the Democratic Party of Virginia and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe have all called on Northam to resign.
Northam on Friday originally admitted to being one of the costumed individuals in the photo, but said he has since had time to examine the image and determined he is not in it.
“Based on the evidence presented to me at the time, the most likely explanation was that it was indeed me,” he said.
“I recognize that many people will find that it’s difficult to believe,” he said. “I ask Virginians to accept my word.”
Northam added that he has discussed the situation with a classmate who told him numerous pages in that yearbook had mismatched photos.
The governor added an anecdote about a regret in his past, saying he “darkened my face” for a Michael Jackson costume, which he later realized was offensive.
“You remember these things,” he said.
Northam also said he has heard “secondhand” about the motives of the person who caused the photo to surface and said “there was an agenda involved.”
The scandal comes just days after Northam found himself embroiled in another controversy when the pediatrician appeared to support the infanticide of born-alive “non-viable” fetuses.