Sunday August 18th, 2019 9:15AM

Virginia's governor pledges to work toward racial healing

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia's governor pledged to work at healing the state's racial divide Saturday, even as calls mounted for the lieutenant governor to resign - capping an astonishing week that saw all three of the state's top elected officials embroiled in potentially career-ending scandals.

Two women have accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, and he has emphatically denied both allegations. After the second allegation was made Friday, Fairfax — who stands to become the state's second black governor if Gov. Ralph Northam resigns over a racist photo — was barraged with demands to step down from top Democrats, including a number of presidential hopefuls and most of Virginia's congressional delegation.

Meanwhile, Northam - now a year into his four-year term - announced his intention to stay at a Friday afternoon Cabinet meeting, according to a senior official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In so doing, Northam defied practically the entire Democratic Party, which rose up against him after a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page surfaced and he acknowledged wearing blackface in the 1980s.

In his first interview since the scandal erupted, a chastened Northam told The Washington Post on Saturday that the uproar has pushed him to confront the state's deep and lingering divisions over race, as well as his own insensitivity. But he said that reflection has convinced him that, by remaining in office, he can work to resolve them.

"It's obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do," Northam said in the interview, conducted at the governor's mansion. "There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity."

Northam said he planned to work for the rest of his term to address issues stemming from inequality, including improving access to health care, housing, and transportation. He also repeated his contention that he is not the one pictured on his yearbook page in blackface. But he could not explain how it wound up there, or why he had taken responsibility for it.

"I overreacted," he said. "If I had it to do over again, I would step back and take a deep breath."

On Saturday, Northam made his first official public appearance since he denied being in the photo, attending the funeral for a state trooper killed in a shootout. But he made no public comments upon arriving in Chilhowie, four hours west of the tumult in Richmond.

Moments after Northam's Friday meeting with his Cabinet, a second woman went public with accusations against Fairfax. A lawyer for Meredith Watson, 39, said in a statement that Fairfax raped Watson 19 years ago while they were students at Duke University.

The statement said it was a "premeditated and aggressive" assault and that while Watson and Fairfax had been social friends, they were never involved romantically.

The lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, said her team had statements from ex-classmates who said Watson "immediately" told friends Fairfax raped her. A public relations firm representing Watson provided The Associated Press with a 2016 email exchange with a female friend and 2017 text exchanges in which Watson said Fairfax had raped her.

Watson's representatives declined to provide further documentation and said their client would not talk to journalists.

Fairfax denied the new allegation, as he did the first, leveled earlier by Vanessa Tyson, a California college professor who said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him at a Boston hotel in 2004.

"It is obvious that a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me," Fairfax said. "I will not resign."

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.

Many Democrats who had carefully withheld judgment after the first accusation against Fairfax, saying the matter needed to be investigated, immediately condemned him. A cascade of calls for Fairfax to resign began Friday evening, mirroring the timing of last week's calls for Northam to resign.

Top Democrats running for president in 2020 called for Fairfax's resignation, including Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Virginia's Democratic congressional delegation was split.

Party elders Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Bobby Scott said Fairfax should resign if the allegations against him were true.

Other congressional Democrats made unqualified calls for Fairfax to resign.

The Virginia Black Legislative Caucus joined calls for Fairfax's departure. And a Democratic member of the state House, Del. Patrick Hope, said he intends to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax on Monday if Fairfax hasn't left by then.

On Saturday, Virginia's House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox joined the chorus calling for Fairfax's resignation. Cox — a Republican, and third in line for governor should Northam step down — said in a statement that Fairfax's ability to govern has been "permanently impaired" by the "multiple, serious credible allegations" of sexual assault.

The Democratic Party of Virginia also called Saturday for Fairfax's resignation. In a statement, party chair Susan Swecker said the allegations against Fairfax are serious and credible and make clear he "can no longer fulfill the duties and responsibilities of his post."

If Fairfax were to leave, there's no consensus on who could replace him. Northam may try to appoint a Democrat, while Republicans could mount a legal challenge with the goal of having Sen. Steve Newman, the Senate's pro tem, serve as both a voting senator and temporary lieutenant governor.

The tumult in Virginia began late last week, with the discovery of the photo on Northam's yearbook profile page that showed someone in blackface standing beside 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.

Virginia 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 of sexual assault for the first time.

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 to them: If all three Democrats resigned, Republican Cox would become governor.


Associated Press journalists Steve Helber in Chilhowie, Virginia; Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia; Julie Pace and Michael Biesecker in Washington; Jonathan Drew in Durham, North Carolina; Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland; Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston; and Thomas Beaumont in Mason City, Iowa, contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News
© Copyright 2019
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Pelosi shows pragmatic streak in pursuit of border deal
In her early moves as House speaker, Nancy Pelosi is defying Republicans who have tried to portray her as a captive of the Democratic Party's resurgent left wing
3:25PM ( 6 minutes ago )
The Latest: Virginia's governor to focus on racial equity
Virginia's embattled governor says he wants to spend the remaining three years of his term pursuing racial "equity."
3:15PM ( 17 minutes ago )
Virginia's governor pledges to work toward racial healing
Virginia's governor pledged to work at healing the state's racial divide, capping an astonishing week that saw all three of the state's top elected officials embroiled in potentially career-ending scandals
3:14PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Calls mount for Virginia lieutenant governor's resignation
The head of Virginia's House of Delegates has joined the chorus of calls for the resignation of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax
2:12PM ( 1 hour ago )
Woman acquitted of blasphemy still can't leave Pakistan
A Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan has been transferred from a secret location near the capital to another in Karachi
1:55PM ( 1 hour ago )
Gun-seizure laws grow in popularity since Parkland shooting
Last year's mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, prompted a number of states to pass "red flag" laws that allow law enforcement or family members to seek an order seizing guns from people who appear violent and pose a possible danger
1:27PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP National News
More states adopting gun-seizure laws after Parkland tragedy
In the year since the deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school, nine states have passed laws making it easier to take guns away from people who may be suicidal or bent on violence against others
9:31AM ( 6 hours ago )
French yellow vest protester sustains hand injury in Paris
French police say that a yellow vest protester has sustained a hand injury in Paris as the 13th consecutive weekend of demonstrations grew tense
8:46AM ( 6 hours ago )
Leader of new climate panel talks of need for 'bold action'
House Democrats are confident a special committee they have set up on climate change can lead to "bold action." But before the committee can get to work, it first needs to find office space, hire staff and await Republican members
8:11AM ( 7 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Depression 101: Dallas schoolkids learn about mental health
Dozens of Dallas-area schools are among a growing number around the world that are teaching children how to spot the signs of depression in themselves and others
9:54AM ( 5 hours ago )
Virginia lieutenant governor embattled by new sex allegation
Barrage of calls to resign for embattled Virginia governor and his No. 2 deepen as scandals rock the state's top elected leadership
9:50PM ( 17 hours ago )
Going green: States would get free hand under pot bill
A US senator from Oregon has proposed legislation that would give states a free hand to allow legal marijuana markets without the threat of federal criminal intervention
9:50PM ( 17 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
The Latest: 2020 rival defends Warren against Trump attack
One of Warren's rivals in the Democratic race for president is coming to her defense in the face of attacks by Trump's re-election campaign
1:35PM ( 1 hour ago )
Booker urges activists, leaders to heed social justice call
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker takes his call for social justice to Iowa, where he is visiting with African-American leaders
11:31PM ( 16 hours ago )
Abortion case shows Roberts firmly at Supreme Court's center
Chief Justice John Roberts broke with the Supreme Court's other conservative justices and his own voting record on abortion to block a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital
10:55PM ( 16 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Virginia governor's No. 2 is hit with new sex allegations
Virginia's state government seems to be coming unglued
8:02PM ( 19 hours ago )
Virginia gov says he won't quit; new allegation hits deputy
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has told top staff that he is not going to resign over a racist photo as another sexual assault accusation was leveled at his lieutenant governor, who would succeed him if he stepped down
7:52PM ( 19 hours ago )
High court takes abortion vote, but key tests still to come
Activists on both sides of the abortion debate react cautiously to 5-4 Supreme Court vote blocking Louisiana from enforcing new abortion regulations; they say the crucial tests of the court's stance are still to come
6:27PM ( 21 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Pelosi shows pragmatic streak in pursuit of border deal
In her early moves as House speaker, Nancy Pelosi is defying Republicans who have tried to portray her as a captive of the Democratic Party's resurgent left wing
3:25PM ( 6 minutes ago )
The Latest: Virginia's governor to focus on racial equity
Virginia's embattled governor says he wants to spend the remaining three years of his term pursuing racial "equity."
3:15PM ( 17 minutes ago )
Prince Philip, 97, gives up driver's license after crash
Buckingham Palace says 97-year-old Prince Philip has decided to stop driving, less than a month after he was involved in a collision that left two women injured
3:10PM ( 21 minutes ago )
Trump's Year 3 aims for dramatic sequels to rival originals
As Trump prepares to meet North Korea's leader for a second time, he's out to replicate the suspenseful buildup, make-or-break stakes and far-flung rendezvous of their first encounter
2:51PM ( 41 minutes ago )
No. 8 Tar Heels hold off Hurricanes 88-85 in overtime
Kenny Williams hits go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:08 left in overtime to help eighth-ranked North Carolina hold off Miami 88-85
2:41PM ( 50 minutes ago )