Anatomy of a Scandal
How the controversy over Gov. Ralph Northam’s racist yearbook photo unfolded over 24 hours | By Daniel Berti
Talk about a political firestorm:
On Friday morning, a conservative news website posted Gov. Ralph Northam’s page from a college yearbook featuring a racist photo.
By Friday evening, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly were calling on Northam to resign.
By Saturday morning, Republicans and liberal advocacy groups echoed that demand — and protesters assembled in front of the Executive Mansion.
On Saturday afternoon, Northam emerged from his residence, apologized to Virginians but made it clear he won’t resign.
Here is a timeline of how the scandal unfolded.
The website Big League Politics was the first to publish a photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook that shows two people, one in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb, on a page dedicated to Northam.
The photo was confirmed by The Virginian-Pilot, which obtained a copy of the yearbook from the Eastern Virginia Medical School library, early that afternoon. The story circulated throughout the day.
Shortly after 5 p.m., Republican leaders in the General Assembly issued a statement saying:
“This is a deeply disturbing and offensive photograph in need of an immediate explanation by the Governor.”
Then New Virginia Majority, an advocacy group that usually supports Democrats, said it “strongly condemns” the photo.
At about 6:15 p.m., Northam issued a statement:
“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now. This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today.”
At 6:47 p.m., Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney issued a response — one of the first to say Northam should resign:
“Governor Northam has a long and distinguished career history of service to our Commonwealth and nation, but he should do the honorable thing and step down.”
At 9 p.m., Northam issued a video apology on social media, but stated that he intended to finish his term:
“I’m deeply sorry. I cannot change the decisions I made, nor can I undo the harm my behavior caused then and today. I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust.”
More groups condemned the photo, including the advocacy group Progress Virginia and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. Members of the caucus then met with Northam.
At 11 p.m., the Legislative Black Caucus called for Northam’s resignation:
“Given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as Governor. It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing.”
At 11:02 p.m., former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called for Northam’s resignation:
“The situation that he has put himself and the Commonwealth of Virginia in is untenable. It’s time for Ralph to step down, and for the Commonwealth to move forward.”
At 11:06 p.m., the Democratic leadership in the Senate called on Northam to resign:
“The racism engendered by these images was real then and resurrected by these images today … it is with heavy hearts that we have respectfully asked him to step down.”
At 11:15 p.m., the Virginia House Democratic Caucus reiterated that statement:
“We regret to say that we are no longer confident in the Governor’s representation of Virginians. Though it brings us no joy to do so, we must call for Governor Northam’s resignation.”
At 11:49 p.m., a group of progressive advocacy organizations including Planned Parenthood, Progress Virginia and New Virginia Majority issued a joint call for Northam to step down:
“Following revelations of a racist photo featuring Governor Ralph Northam in his medical school yearbook today, the leadership of Virginia’s progressive community is calling on the Governor to resign his office.”
By the end of the day, Democratic politicians at both the national and state level called for Northam’s resignation, including Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia both issued statements condemning the racist photo but didn’t call for Northam’s resignation outright.
Top Republicans in the General Assembly began calling for Northam’s resignation on Saturday morning, as protesters started arriving outside the Executive Mansion.
At 9:04 a.m., House Speaker Kirk Cox and and other House Republican leaders called for Northam’s resignation:
“We agree with the powerful words of our colleagues in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and believe that because of this photo the Governor has lost the confidence of the citizens he serves.”
At 9:50 a.m., the Senate Republican leadership reiterated that call:
“The confidence of the people is essential to a governor being able to serve effectively. It is clear to us that Governor Northam no longer holds that confidence … The time has come for him to fulfill his duty and act in the best interests of Virginia by stepping down.”
The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, called on Northam to resign at 10:52 a.m.:
“The photo is racist and contrary to fundamental American values. I join my colleagues in Virginia calling on Governor Northam to do the right thing so that the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia can heal and move forward.”
Around 11 a.m., word spreads on social media that Northam has contacted Virginia Democrats and said he was not actually in the photo.
At 2:30 p.m., Northam held a press conference and said that he “reflected with my family and classmates and came to the conclusion that I am not the person in the photo.” He apologized again, but refused to step down as Governor: He said resignation would be too “easy” and he is prepared for the “difficult path that lies ahead.”
“I want to apologize to the many people who have been hurt by this episode…I am ready to earn your forgiveness.”
At 3 p.m., the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus again called for Northam’s resignation:
“The damage that has been done by these revelations is irreparable. Our confidence in his ability to govern for the over 8 million Virginians has been eviscerated. Another moment should not pass before we hear Governor Northam do the honorable thing and resign.”
Around 3:30 p.m., Levar Stoney said that he had not changed his position:
“The Governor didn’t put anything behind us by creating even more confusion, anger and disbelief. I still believe the Governor should do the honorable thing and step down so we can move forward.”
At 4:48 p.m., Attorney General Mark Herring called for Northam to resign: “It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down.”
More about the controversy surrounding Gov. Northam’s photo:
¶ Main story: Northam Denies Racist Photo And Says He Won’t Resign