Virginia’s nine congressional Democrats issued a joint statement late Thursday restating that Gov. Ralph Northam should resign over a blackface photograph in his medical school yearbook — but stopping short of calling for Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax to step down over an allegation of sexual assault from 2004.
The statement, from Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Reps. Donald McEachin, Bobby Scott, Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton, also did not demand the resignation of the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, who admitted this week to wearing blackface at a college party in 1980.
“Like other Virginians, we have been devastated by these horrible developments,” the statement said. “We are brokenhearted that the actions of Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring have reopened old wounds left by Virginia’s long history of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and systemic racism. There’s no question that Virginians’ faith in their government and leaders has understandably been deeply shaken.”
The statement noted that all nine lawmakers “have each publicly called for Governor Northam to resign,” but said that Herring had “earnestly reached out to each of us to apologize and express his deep remorse.
“We understand that [Herring] is currently engaged in in-depth discussions with leaders and people in Virginia,” the statement said. “The Attorney General must continue those conversations, and stand ready to answer questions from the public if he is to regain their trust.”
The lawmakers then turned to the sexual-assault claim made against Fairfax by Scripps College Associate Professor Vanessa Tyson. They said they were “deeply disturbed” by the allegations, which “need to be taken very seriously, and we respect the right of women to come forward and be heard.”
Earlier Thursday, Kaine said he would prefer to know more about Tyson’s allegation before coming to a conclusion. He said Tyson had offered “a very compelling and detailed statement of a serious, serious charge,” while Fairfax has given “a very unequivocal denial.”
Asked whether Northam should stay in office, Kaine replied: “No. We’ve reached a conclusion and we’ve made a recommendation.”
The statement came on the heels of a similar pronouncement from Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus, which reiterated its own call for Northam to resign, but did not call for Northam or Herring to step down.
Democrats in Virginia have expressed fear the crises could jeopardize their chances of taking control of the GOP-dominated legislature this year after big gains in 2017. If all three officeholders step down, the Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates Kirk Cox would be next in line to be governor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.