Gov. Ralph Northam, D-Va., refused to resign his post on Saturday, reversing course from a statement issued the day before to insist neither of the people captured in a controversial yearbook photograph unearthed Friday were him. The picture resurfaced late this week after Northam defended the practice of late-term abortion in an interview, going so far as to support cases where babies born in certain circumstances would be left to die to after birth.
On Friday, the website Big League Politics published a page from Northam’s 1984 yearbook at Eastern Virginia Medical School, which included a picture that showed one person dressed in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan uniform. In a statement issued later that day, Northam conceded the picture was of him and apologized. “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now,” he said.
But on Saturday, Northam changed his tune, contending the picture on his own yearbook page did not feature him at all. In an exceedingly bizarre press conference, the first-term governor claimed he had not purchased the yearbook, and only saw the picture for the first time when his staff brought it to his attention on Friday. After reflecting with family and classmates, Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said he concluded neither of the people in the photograph were him.
Gov. @RalphNortham denied he is in a racist photo discovered in his yearbook yesterday, but admitted to making other mistakes in his past: “I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume.” pic.twitter.com/1C3RIJoMFg
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) February 2, 2019
The press conference took another strange turn when the governor claimed his determination “stems in part from my clear memory of other mistakes I made in this same period of my life.”
“That same year, I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume,” Northam explained. “It is because my memory of that episode is so vivid that I truly do not believe I am in in the picture in my yearbook.”
He recalled the costume’s details. “I had the shoes, I had a glove, and I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put under my, or on my, cheeks,” said Northam. “And the reason I used a very little bit is because, I don’t know if anybody’s ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off.”
When a reporter later asked whether he was still able to moonwalk, Northam’s wife had to intervene by whispering “inappropriate circumstances” while he looked around the stage, apparently to determine whether there was adequate space to perform the dance.
He also responded to questions about another resurfaced yearbook page, this time from Virginia Military Institute, which listed “Coonman” as his nickname. Northam said he knew of only two people who called him that, and did not know why they chose to do so.
In light of the photograph, a chorus of high-profile Democrats—including presidential candidates Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York—called for Northam’s resignation. They were joined by former Vice President Joe Biden, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the Democratic Party of Virginia, and the powerful Democratic Governors Association.
“We amplify our call for the Governor to resign,” the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus added in a statement released shortly after Northam’s presser. “In light of his public admission and apology for his decision to appear in the photo, he has irrevocably lost the faith and trust of the people he was elected to serve.”
“Changing his public story today,” the caucus wrote, “now casts further doubt on his ability to regain that trust.”