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Blackface And Alleged Rape Scandals Roil Virginia Democrats

It all started with a 35-year-old picture. Now, after only five days, three of Virginia’s top Democrats are implicated in serious scandals. 


It all started with a 35-year-old picture. Now, after only five days, three of Virginia’s top Democrats are implicated in serious scandals.

The snapshot from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook showing two men—one in blackface, the other in KKK robes—has triggered an increasingly bizarre chain of events since its release last Friday. As of Wednesday, three of the state’s top Democratic officials are mired in career-threatening controversies: Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring.

After nearly every high-profile national Democrat called for Northam’s resignation, Fairfax, potentially on the cusp of assuming the governorship, faced a 15-year-old allegation of sexual assault. On Wednesday, his accuser stepped forward to tell the account of their alleged 2004 encounter—one The Washington Post originally declined to publish.

The woman, a Scripps College professor named Vanessa Tyson, released a statement accusing Fairfax of forcing his penis into her mouth in a hotel room at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “As I cried and gagged, Mr. Fairfax forced me to perform oral sex on him,” Tyson claims. Fairfax maintains their encounter was consensual. Hours before Tyson released her statement, NBC News reported that Fairfax said “f–k that b-tch” in reference to Tyson during a private meeting Monday night.

As the Fairfax allegation played out in dramatic fashion on Wednesday—already layered atop the ongoing Northam scandal—Herring released his own statement, admitting that, like Northam (who first admitted to being in the photo and then bizarrely changed his story but admitted to dressing in blackface as Michael Jackson), he had also dressed in blackface as a student at the University of Virginia in 1980. “Because of our ignorance and glib attitudes — and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others — we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup,” Herring recalled, detailing the costume he donned in an effort to look like rapper Kurtis Blow.

Somehow it gets worse. Virginia’s rapid series of unfortunate events implicates Northam, his potential successor, and his potential successor’s potential successor. In other words, Fairfax is in line to replace Northam, and Herring is in line to replace Fairfax if both Northam and Fairfax were to resign. You can read a flowchart outlining the state’s order of succession courtesy of Tim Carney here. All three of those men are now compromised by controversies that have emerged in only the past five days.

This picture of state Sen. Louise Lucas pretty much sums it up.

“It’s an absolute nightmare,” Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), reflected. Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Patrick Wilson tweeted that the state’s Democratic Party “has imploded.”

“This will affect not just the party and its electoral chances, but has put the state government in crisis,” Wilson wrote. “And no one knows what happens next.” If the last five days are any indication, that’s probably an understatement.

What’s most unfortunate is that Northam’s chilling defense of late-term abortion is what immediately preceded this entire circus. Lost in all the ongoing drama is that his party’s legislation, and his articulated support for it, should also be at the forefront of voters’ minds. Lest we forget, in defense of Kathy Tran’s late-term abortion bill, Northam went so far last week as to support cases where babies born in certain circumstances would be left to die after birth. Tellingly, Northam lost the support of his party only after a yearbook photo prompted them to cast his character into question. Perhaps, just perhaps, there were other signs.