Mark Herring, Virginia’s Democratic attorney general, admitted Wednesday that he wore blackface to a college party in 1980—throwing the state’s leadership into even greater turmoil.
“I’m sure we have all done things at one time or another in our lives that show poor judgement, and worse yet, have caused some level of pain to others,” Herring wrote in a statement. “I have a glaring example from my past that I have thought about with regret in the many years since, and certainly each time I took a step forward in public service.”
“In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” Herring continued. “It sounds ridiculous now even writing it. But 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 added that this was a “onetime occurrence,” and that “I accept full responsibility for my conduct.”
In his statement, the attorney general apologized to his constituents of color, writing that “Where they have deserved to feel heard, respected, understood, and honestly represented, I fear my actions have contributed to them being forced to revisit and feel a historical pain that has never been allowed to become history.”
His admission comes just days after the state’s embattled governor, Ralph Northam, came under fire for a racist photo that appeared on his medical school yearbook page. The photo in his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook features one person wearing blackface, and another dressed in the hood and robe of the Klu Klux Klan.
While Northam at first admitted to being in the photo, he later denied it—although he acknowledged that he wore blackface at another time, and that his nickname used to be “coonman.” The image and resulting controversy sparked lawmakers across the aisle—including Herring—to call for his resignation, and his approval rating has dropped by a remarkable 41 percent since the start of the scandal.
That’s not all. After the racist photo surfaced, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax—who would replace Northam if he decides to resign—was accused of sexually assaulting a woman at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The allegation was published in the far-right news site Big League Politics—the same outlet that first published the image of Northam’s yearbook page.
Fairfax vehemently denied the allegations in a statement, claiming that he “never assaulted anyone—ever—in any way, shape or form,” and that The Washington Post chose not to publish the woman’s allegations after finding “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations.”
The Post quickly denied that part of Fairfax’s account, writing that they did not find significant red flags or inconsistencies—they just weren’t able to corroborate either side of the story. Fairfax immediately snapped back at the outlet, claiming the Post “smeared” him by publishing details of the account.
Fairfax also suggested that a potential 2021 challenger, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, could have been behind the allegation.
On Wednesday, NBC News’ Kasie Hunt claimed that Fairfax also attacked his accuser, Vanessa Tyson, in a closed-door meeting. Fairfax reportedly said “fuck that bitch” when discussing his accuser, two sources told the outlet.
Fairfax’s chief of staff told The New York Times hours later that the lieutenant governor did say “fuck” during the meeting—but he denied that Fairfax ever called her “a fucking bitch.”
Fairfax took a softer tone when he released his own statement on Twitter Wednesday, moments after the NBC report surfaced. “While this allegation has been both surprising and hurtful,” he wrote, “I also recognize that no one makes charges of this kind lightly, and I take it and this situation very seriously.”
In the statement, he reiterated his earlier claim that his sexual encounter with Tyson was consensual—but encouraged the public to “treat both the woman who made this allegation and my family with respect for how painful this situation can be for everyone involved.”
“I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice,” he added. “But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true.”
Hours after Fairfax’s statement, Tyson’s legal team released her description of the allegations. She claimed that after meeting Fairfax in July 2016, he invited her to his hotel room, and kissed her while she was waiting at his door. But that consensual kissing, she alleged, “turned into sexual assault.”
“Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed his head towards my crotch... Utterly shocked and terrified, I tried to move my head away, but could not,” Tyson wrote, saying that she “cried and gagged” while he “forced” her to perform oral sex.
Herring would be next in line for the state’s highest office should Northam and Fairfax step down.
“In the days ahead, honest conversation and discussions should make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general,” he concluded in his statement, “but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation.”