Virginia’s two U.S. Senators and seven of its eleven Representatives say they are “brokenhearted” by the crisis surrounding Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring. In a statement emailed to FairfaxNews, they reiterated their call for Gov. Northam to resign and said they will “evaluate additional information as it comes to light” regarding Fairfax and Herring.
The crisis widened beyond Democratic leadership circles Thursday when the state Senate’s top Republican faced questions about alleged racist slurs in a yearbook he helped oversee, The New York Times reported.
“Like other Virginians, we have been devastated by these horrible developments. We are brokenhearted that the actions of Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring have reopened old wounds left by Virginia’s long history of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and systemic racism. There’s no question that Virginians’ faith in their government and leaders has understandably been deeply shaken,” said the joint statement issued by U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine and U.S. Representatives Bobby Scott, Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, A. Donald McEachin, Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton.
“We have each publicly called for Governor Northam to resign,” they noted but said they are withholding judgment on Fairfax and Herring.
Northam apologized for a college yearbook photo that supposedly portrays him and another student, one in blackface and one wearing a Ku Klux Klan uniform. He later walked back his apology, saying he could not remember whether he was actually in the photo.
“Shocked and saddened”
Fairfax, who is first in line to succeed Northam if he steps down, has been accused of sexual assault by a young woman during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Vanessa Tyson, now an associate professor at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex during an encounter in a hotel room. Fairfax has denied it.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) has called on Fairfax to resign.
“Dr. Vanessa Tyson has made the brave decision to come forward and reveal in her own words what happened between her and Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Her story is horrifying, compelling and clear as day – and we believe her,” NOW president Toni Van Pelt.
The Virginia Congressional delegation members hedged their bets, saying they respected the right of women to be heard.
“We are deeply disturbed by the account detailing the alleged actions of Lieutenant Governor Fairfax. We believe these allegations need to be taken very seriously, and we respect the right of women to come forward and be heard,” the statement continued.
Herring wore blackface
Herring, who is third in line to the governor’s office, wore blackface at a college party in 1980, he said earlier this week. “This was a onetime occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct.” he said, bringing a guarded response from the Congressional members.
“Yesterday, we were shocked and saddened to learn of the incident in the Attorney General’s past. The Attorney General has earnestly reached out to each of us to apologize and express his deep remorse. We understand that he is currently engaged in in-depth discussions with leaders and others in Virginia. The Attorney General must continue those conversations, and stand ready to answer questions from the public if he is to regain their trust,” they said.
“We will continue in dialogue with one another and our constituents in the coming days, and evaluate additional information as it comes to light,” the statement concluded.
The scandal took on a bipartisan slant Thursday as state Senator Thomas K. Norment Jr., who is the majority leader, was criticized for racists content in a yearbook he helped oversee.
Norment was the managing editor of the 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook, which included slurs and images of students in blackface. Mr. Norment called the use of blackface “abhorrent” while pointing out that he did not take or appear in any of the photographs, the Times said.