Virginia blackface scandal: Ralph Northam vows to stay as governor

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NorthamImage source, AFP
Image caption,
Mr Northam said his state needed 'someone that can heal', so he would stay

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has vowed he is "not going anywhere" despite calls for him to resign after admitting he had worn blackface.

He told Gayle King on CBS that he had balanced those calls against "what Virginia needs right now".

He denies having been in a racist photograph on his page in his 1984 medical school yearbook.

But he acknowledged wearing blackface on a separate occasion that year while dressing up as Michael Jackson.

A photograph in the 1984 yearbook shows a person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes.

On CBS's Sunday morning Face the Nation, Mr Northam said: "I really think that I'm in a position where I can take Virginia to the next level.

"I have learned from this," he said. "I have a lot more to learn."

Image source, The Washington Post via Getty Images
Image caption,
Ralph Northam's 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page

He said he had been in more difficult situations in his medical career, and continued: "Right now, Virginia needs someone that can heal. There's no better person to do that than a doctor.

"Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that's why I'm not going anywhere."

In an earlier interview with the Washington Post Mr Northam promised to set up race sensitivity training for state employees, and "take a harder line" on Confederate statues in public places in the state.

Statues of Confederate leaders have been flashpoints for protest and race conflicts in recent years. In August 2017 a far-right supporter drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing one, following a white supremacist rally in the Virginia town of Charlottesville.

Media caption,

Governor Northam: I am not the person in that photo

Other senior authority figures in the state are facing their own controversies.

Attorney General Mark Herring, Mr Northam's deputy, has acknowledged wearing "brown make-up" to a party when he was 19.

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax meanwhile has been denying claims of sexual assault and rape.

All three are Democrats. If they were all to resign over these controversies, Virginia could be led by the Republican Speaker of the House of Delegates, Kirk Cox.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Justin Fairfax (second left), Ralph Northam (centre) and Mark Herring (second right) in happier times

On Wednesday, Vanessa Tyson came forward to recount Mr Fairfax's alleged assault in disturbing detail through a statement issued by her lawyers.

Now a California college professor, she says Mr Fairfax forced her to perform a sex act on him during the 2004 Democratic political convention in Boston.

Mr Fairfax said her statement had been "painful", but insisted he was innocent.

On Friday a second woman came forward. She alleged that Mr Fairfax raped her in 2000 when they were both students at Duke University in North Carolina.

Mr Fairfax denied the allegations and said he was the victim of a smear campaign.

Meanwhile the Republican party in Virginia has also been hit by its own blackface scandal after it emerged that Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment edited a 1968 college publication containing slurs and blackface photos.

In a statement on Thursday, he condemned "the use of blackface".