Virginia’s black voters might forgive racist conduct by Gov. Ralph Northam simply because he is a Democrat, said Gregory McLemore, vice chairman of the Virginia Democratic Black Caucus.
“We need to support our fellow Democrats. United you stand, divided you fall,” said McLemore, a city council member in Franklin, Virginia. “I can’t (forsake) Gov. Northam for acting white in America.”
Stressing that he was not speaking on behalf of the caucus, which has called for Northam to resign, McLemore said America’s racism problem is bigger than anything the governor did.
As Northam hunkers down against widespread calls for his resignation for wearing blackface in the 1980s, the Democratic Party and its liberal allies are realizing that punishing him could jeopardize their hold on political power, potentially beyond the Old Dominion.
That doesn’t mean black voters, who are a major component of the Democratic base, are happy about Northam or want him to remain in the Governor’s Mansion. They just see Republicans as a bigger threat.
About 58 percent of black voters in Virginia said Northam should not step down, compared with 46 percent of white voters who said the same, according to a recent Washington Post poll.
“If we look at everyone’s past history we will discover a lot of things. He asked for forgiveness, and that’s good enough for me,” said Mary Wilson, who was visiting the State House as a member of the Prince William County chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
Virginia Democrats also sided with Mr. Northam, with 57 percent saying he should stay in office and 40 percent saying he should step down. The state’s Republican voters took roughly the opposite positions.
The turmoil engulfing all of Virginia’s top Democratic leaders raised the stakes for punishing Northam. His heir apparent, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is black, is accused of sexually assaulting two women. Second in the constitutional line of succession for governor, Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted that he, too, wore blackface in the 1980s.
Next in the line of succession would be House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican.
CASA in Action, a pro-immigrant group, on Tuesday denounced the conduct of the state’s top Democrats but urged Virginia voters not to let it dampen their enthusiasm for Democratic candidates in this year’s General Assembly elections.
“We have an election this year and Republicans should not be celebrating. The GOP will field candidates who undoubtedly have similar histories and on top of it will vote for policies to cement oppression,” CASA said in an email to supporters. “Weeks of upheaval have left us doubly committed that voters will have the last word in 2019 by electing fierce combatants ready to defend their humanity.”
An avalanche of calls for Northam to resign included most of the Democratic presidential candidates, the state House and Senate Democratic Caucuses, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia Democratic Black Caucus and the Virginia NAACP.
However, Northam appeared determined to complete the remaining three years of his term, with lawmakers lacking the will or the ability to force him from office.
The state Constitution’s criteria for impeachment is largely limited to conduct in office.
Fairfax appeared headed for impeachment hearings but the Democratic state lawmaker driving the effort abruptly hit the breaks Monday, saying he needed to build more support in the caucus.
Kevin Chandler, president of the Virginia NAACP, has reaffirmed the civil rights organization’s call for Northam to step down, though the group has not mobilized members to publicly pressure the governor.
“The governor can no longer be the leader of Virginia because of the betrayed trust,” Chandler told The Washington Times. “If he desires for healing, I think healing comes when he steps aside.”
The NAACP withheld resignation calls for Fairfax and Herring until the issue of the governor is settled.
Northam’s troubles erupted two weeks ago with the revelation that his personal page in his 1984 medical school yearbook included a photo of a man in blackface standing beside someone in Ku Klux Klan robes.
The governor initially apologized and took responsibility for the photo. A day later he denied he was in the photo, took the photo or was responsible for putting it in the yearbook.
Instead, he admitted to wearing blackface to perform as Michael Jackson in a dance contest in 1984.
An attempt to rehabilitate his image with a CBS News interview added to the tumult when he referred to the first slaves who arrived in Virginia 400 years ago as “indentured servants.”
The comment drew swift criticism, including an on-the-spot correction from CBS News’s Gayle King.
“It just goes to show his disconnect with African-Americans,” Chandler said. “He’s in office because of African-Americans.”