RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia's embattled lieutenant governor Saturday called for authorities, including the FBI, to investigate sexual assault allegations made against him while defying widespread calls for his resignation with a plea for “space in this moment for due process.”
Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax issued a statement repeating his strong denials that he had ever sexually assaulted anyone and made clear he does not intend to immediately resign, despite having lost almost his entire base of support.
Meanwhile, Gov. Ralph Northam pledged to work at healing the state's racial divide and made his first official appearance a week after a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page surfaced and he acknowledged wearing blackface in the 1980s. Northam has also defied calls from practically his entire party to step down.
Saturday capped an astonishing week in Virginia politics that saw all three of the state's top elected officials embroiled in potentially career-ending scandals, and the state Democratic Party on the verge of collapse.
Two women have accused Fairfax of sexual assault. After the second allegation was made Friday, Fairfax – the second African-American to ever win statewide office – was barraged with demands to step down from top Democrats, including a number of presidential hopefuls and most of Virginia's congressional delegation.
Northam – a year into his four-year term – has told his top staff he's staying in office and said he wants to focus the rest of his term on taking concrete steps toward increasing racial equality.
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 Executive Mansion. “There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity.”
Northam said he planned to focus on addressing issues stemming from inequality, including improving access to health care, housing, and transportation. He also repeated his contention that he is not pictured in the photo on his yearbook page that shows someone in blackface standing alongside someone in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. But he could not explain how the photo wound up there, or why he initially 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.”
Last week, Attorney General Mark Herring also acknowledged wearing blackface at a college party in 1980. Herring – who would become governor if both Northam and Fairfax resign – had called on Northam to resign and came forward after rumors about the existence of a blackface photo of him began circulating at the Capitol.