RICHMOND, Va. — Defying practically the entire Democratic Party, Gov. Ralph Northam told his top staff Friday that he is not going to resign over the racist-photo furor, while a second sexual-assault accusation was leveled against his lieutenant governor, the man who would succeed him if he stepped down.
The new allegation immediately brought demands from top Democrats for Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to resign, too.
The twin developments came at the end of a turbulent week that saw all three of Virginia’s top elected officials — all Democrats — embroiled in potentially career-ending scandals.
Northam, who is a year into his four-year term, announced his intention to stay during an afternoon Cabinet meeting, according to a senior official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Later in the day, the governor issued a statement to state employees, saying, “You have placed your trust in me to lead Virginia forward — and I plan to do that.”
The woman who came forward to accuse Fairfax on Friday said in a statement that he attacked her when they were students at Duke University in North Carolina. The Associated Press is not reporting the details because the allegation it has not been corroborated.
Fairfax emphatically denied the new allegation, as he did the first one. “It is obvious that a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me,” he said.
Duke campus police have no criminal reports naming Fairfax, university spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said. Durham police spokesman Wil Glenn also said he couldn’t find a report in the department’s system on the 2000 allegation.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, immediately called on Fairfax to resign, citing “multiple detailed allegations” that are “deeply troubling.” Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe tweeted that the lieutenant governor “can no longer effectively serve.”
The tumult in Virginia began late last week, with the discovery of a photo on Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page that showed someone in blackface standing next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Northam at first admitted he was in the picture, then denied it a day later, but acknowledged he once put shoe polish on his face to look like Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984.
Nearly the entire Virginia Democratic establishment, as well as nearly every Democratic presidential hopeful, called on him to resign.
Virginia soon slid deeper into crisis on Wednesday, when Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged wearing blackface at a college party in 1980, and Fairfax was publicly accused by a California college professor of forcing her to perform oral sex on him at a Boston hotel in 2004.
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.
In the immediate wake of the allegations against Herring and Fairfax, many Democratic leaders and black members of the Virginia legislature leaders continued to call on Northam to resign but withheld judgment on the two others, saying in Fairfax’s case that the allegations needed to be investigated more thoroughly. That changed on Friday, with Democrats rushing to demand that Fairfax step down, too.
At the start of the week, Cox said there was little appetite among lawmakers to remove Northam through impeachment, saying resignation “would obviously be less pain for everyone.”