Virginia governor denies being in racist yearbook photo

Reuters

(Reuters) – Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Saturday resisted mounting pressure from his Democratic party that he resign, denying that he appeared in a racist yearbook photo while admitting he once wore blackface in a dance contest.

FILE PHOTO: Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, Democratic candidate for governor, delivers remarks before introducing former U.S. President Barack Obama to speak at a rally with supporters in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Northam, who took office a year ago, said he would stay in his job. “As long as I feel that I can lead, I will continue to do that,” he said.

Northam had apologized on Friday, saying he was one of the people shown in the photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook, which depicted one person in blackface standing next to another in a Ku Klux Klan costume.

But on Saturday he said he looked at the photo more carefully and is sure it was not him. In a news conference alongside his wife, Northam said he had made other mistakes, including dressing up in blackface to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest around the same time.

“I actually won the contest because I had learned to do the moonwalk,” Northam said, referring to a dance move made famous in part by famed American singer Michael Jackson.

Northam apologized for his past actions and vowed to work to earn forgiveness.

“I am simply asking for the opportunity to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person I was is not the man I am today,” Northam said.

Pressure on him from within his party is growing.

“Governor Northam has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately,” former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat weighing a 2020 presidential run, said on Twitter.

Protesters gathered in front the his office in Richmond, Virginia, waving signs demanding he step down.

The head of Northam’s party in the state also called on him to quit.

Other prominent Democrats – including 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Julian Castro – have been calling on Northam to resign since Friday.

Former Democratic Governor L. Douglas Wilder said on Saturday Northam should be criticized for the photos but stopped short of calling for his resignation. “The choice of his continuing in office is his to make,” Wilder said on Twitter.

Northam, a 59-year-old pediatric neurologist and Army veteran, graduated from Norfolk medical school in 1984.

The Virginia-Pilot, which published the photo on Friday, said on its website it obtained a copy of the photo from the Eastern Virginia Medical School library.

Reporting by Jason Lange in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Nick Zieminski

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