By: Kevin McDonnell
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y.- The fate of Virginia’s governorship remains uncertain. Governor Ralph Northam became a prominent figure in national politics when a photograph was discovered in his 1984 East Virginia Medical School yearbook of a man depicted in “blackface” next to another individual dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Northam initially admitted that he was one of the men depicted in the photograph, but did not elude as to which costume he was wearing. Lawmakers and the National Democratic Party swiftly called for Northam’s resignation. Northam proceeded to hold a press conference to address the issue in which he then denied being in the photograph and instead admitted to darkening his face for a Halloween costume where he played Michael Jackson.
Again, calls for Northam’s resignation were strong ,and Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax seemed to be the obvious replacement. However, soon after Northam’s incident Lt. Gov. Fairfax, only the second African-American elected to a statewide office, was accused of sexual assault.
Vanessa C. Tyson alleged that Fairfax assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. She said that she followed Mr. Fairfax up to his hotel room to retrieve some papers when the two began kissing. The situation intensified when Fairfax pushed her head towards his crotch and forced her to perform oral sex. Fairfax denies the allegations and asserts that the situation was entirely consensual. Dr. Tyson reported that she originally gave the information of the assault to the Washington Post, but they did not initially print the story because they could not corroborate the information.
This all occurred on the same day that the State Attorney General, Mark E. Herring, admitted that he also wore “blackface” during a party throwing Virginia into deeper disarray as Herring is the third in the line of succession for governor. Amidst this denial, Herring resigned his position as co-chairman of the Democratic Attorney Generals Association putting into question whether he would even retain his role as Attorney General within the state. Herring was seen as an ally of many within the Black Caucus and this admission came as a major blow.
If all of that was not enough to shake Virginia following the allegations by Tyson, Fairfax was accused again of sexual assault by Meredith Watson. Watson alleged that the assault occurred in 2000 while both individuals were at Duke Law School. Democratic Party members were quick to demand Fairfax’s resignation following the second allegation.
At this point, Northam intends to serve out the remaining three years as governor, but whatever happens in Virginia it seems public officials have a long way to go in rebuilding the trust between them and the people.