Less than 24 hours after saying he was pictured in a racist college yearbook photo, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has now reportedly expressed doubt that he was pictured in either blackface or a KKK outfit.
On Saturday, Northam placed phone calls to Democrats, expressing doubts he was in the photo, one told the Associated Press. Northam also called former classmates at Eastern Virginia Medical School to get more information about the photo on his yearbook page, according to the The New York Times.
The apparent reversal added yet another bizarre chapter to a quick-moving scandal that has threatened to end the Democrat’s political career.
Northam’s future as governor seemed all but over Friday evening after his medical school yearbook page from 1984 surfaced online showing two people, one dressed in blackface, the other in Ku Klux Klan robes. That photo appeared under his name and alongside other photos of him at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Separately, a 1981 yearbook entry from the Virginia Military Institute said his nickname as “Coonman,” a racial slur.
A host of prominent Democrats, including virtually the entire 2020 presidential field, as well as the NAACP and major liberal groups demanded he step down.
Northam, for his part, issued a statement saying he was in the photo, though he didn’t specify which person, and apologized but did not offer his resignation.
"Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive," he said. "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.”
But as the night unfolded, Northam didn’t budge. In another apology issued late Friday night, he said he intended to serve out the remaining three years in his term. Northam is scheduled to make a statement at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, during which he is reportedly expected to announce he will not resign.
If Northam stays, it will be in defiance of his own state party. The Democratic caucuses in the Virginia legislature have both called on him to resign, as did he predecessor and former boss, ex-Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Mark Levinie, a Democrat in the House of Delegates, told The Daily Beast what’s happened was previously unimangible to him.
“Two days ago, I never would have believed that the Ralph Northam who I know would ever have been in a racist photo,” he said Saturday, a day after calling on the governor to resign.
— With reporting by Asawin Suebsaeng in Washington, D.C.