Report: Governor tells top staff he will not resign


    <p>Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam arrives for a news conference in the Governor's Mansion in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Northam is under fire for a racial photo that appeared in his college yearbook. (AP Photo/Steve Helber){/p}

    RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A senior official in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration says the governor has told his top staff that he does not plan to resign over a racist photo despite intense pressure to step down.

    Northam called a Cabinet meeting Friday afternoon to announce his intention to stay, the official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity

    This comes after the governor tweeted about a meeting he had with the president of the non-profit National Black Farmers Association.

    "John, I enjoyed hearing from you today. Thank you for your great work on behalf of Black farmers."

    John Boyd, Jr. said he met with Governor Northam and told him not to step down.

    The announcement comes at the end of an unprecedented week in Virginia history that has seen the state’s three top Democrats embroiled in potentially career-ending scandals.

    The tumult began last Friday afternoon, when Northam’s medical school yearbook page surfaced with a picture of one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

    This image shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. The page shows a picture, at right, of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor. It's unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him. (Eastern Virginia Medical School via AP)

    Northam immediately apologized for appearing in the photograph, saying he could not “undo the harm my behavior caused then and today.” Most of the Democratic establishment called for his resignation by the end of the day.

    On Saturday, though, the governor reversed course and said he wasn’t in the picture. He said he wasn’t going to resign immediately because he owed it to the people of Virginia to start a discussion about race and discrimination and listen to the pain he had caused.

    “I believe this moment can be the first small step to open a discussion about these difficult issues,” Northam said. But the governor left his long-term plans open, saying he would reassess his decision not to resign if it became clear he had no viable path forward.

    The pressure on Northam reached a crescendo Saturday when almost the entire Virginia Democratic establishment, as well as nearly every Democratic presidential hopeful, called on him to resign. That pressure has tapered off as a cascade of scandals involving top politicians has rocked the state.

    California college professor Vanessa Tyson publicly accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex on him at a hotel in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax, who would replace Northam if he resigned, has cast the allegations as a political smear.

    And Attorney General Mark Herring — in line to become governor if Northam and Fairfax resign — admitted putting on blackface in the 1980s, when he was a college student. Herring had previously called on Northam to resign and came forward after rumors about the existence of a blackface photo of him began circulating at the Capitol.

    Although the Democratic Party has taken almost a zero-tolerance approach to misconduct among its members in this #MeToo era, a housecleaning in Virginia could be costly: If all three Democrats resigned, Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox would become governor.

    Gov. Northam released a statement Friday evening to state employees apologizing for the chaos of the past week.

    "I want to assure you that the business of the Commonwealth and our duty as public servants will continue," his statement read.

    Northam’s decision to stay in office comes despite many fellow Democrats in Virginia and beyond reiterating their calls for him to resign as recently as Friday.

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