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Hickenlooper, Bennet call on Virginia Gov. Northam to resign after racist yearbook photo surfaces

The yearbook, from the governor's days at Eastern Virginia Medical School back in 1984, shows two men - one in blackface and the other in a KKK outfit - under a banner that reads "Ralph Shearer Northam."
Credit: Alex Edelman
RICHMOND, VA - FEBRUARY 02: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, flanked by his wife Pam, speaks with reporters at a press conference at the Governor's mansion on February 2, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. Northam denies allegations that he is pictured in a yearbook photo wearing racist attire.

Despite holding a press conference denying that he was in a controversial photo from his 1984 yearbook showing someone in blackface and someone in KKK attire, Colorado Democrats Sen. Michael Bennet and former Gov. John Hickenlooper have called on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Virginia) to step down.

Northam first came under fire on Friday - the day he maintains he first saw the photo - after an image made the rounds on social media showing Northam and someone else in racist costumes - that of a white person in blackface and someone in a Ku Klux Klan outfit in the medical school's yearbook. On Friday, Northam posted a video to Twitter saying he was "ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust" - but he ignored multiple calls, some from even inside his own party, to step down from his post as governor.

On Saturday, Northam backtracked even further, saying he was no longer sure if it was him in the 3-decades-old photograph during a nationally televised news conference. Despite this, he admitted he had "darken[ed] his face" as part of a Michael Jackson costume in the same time as when the photo was taken, according to Dan Kennedy of 13News Now in Virginia. He told the crowd he remembered that mistake well and would remember any similar type of mistake.

The yearbook in question, turned to the correct page, shows half a page dedicated to "Ralph Shearer Northam" and has photos clearly identifiable as Northam next to the photo of the person in blackface and the person in a KKK outfit holding some kind of canned beverage.

Even though he's denounced the photo (and admitted to donning blackface at least once), political colleagues from around the country across the ideological spectrum have called on Northam to step down and allow his lieutenant governor to take over. Included in the bunch calling on him to step down are Hickenlooper and Bennet, two long-time Colorado Democrats both dipping their feet in the water of a 2020 presidential bid. 

Hickenlooper, fresh off of two terms as the governor of Colorado, gave an out to Ralph Natham the man, but not Ralph Natham the governor.

"This photo may not be the sum of who Ralph Northam is," Hickenlooper wrote Friday night after the story broke, "but there's no doubt, that the right thing for him to do as a leader is step down."

Bennet, serving in Congress since 2009, did not mince words - and even pointed to who he'd like to get a shot in the governor's chair.

"The photo is racist and despicable," Bennet wrote Saturday morning. "Governor Northam should step down and allow his Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, to become the next Governor of Virginia."

As far as Fairfax, who is a person of color, is concerned, Northam said at his press conference that his lieutenant governor has not asked him to resign. Fairfax would take over per Virginia law if Northam stepped back.

When asked by a reporter what he thought of Northam's past actions and recent press conference, Fairfax told 13News Now's Jaclyn Lee that "Virginia needs to move forward" without directly answering the question. As of 2:15 p.m., Fairfax released a statement on Twitter saying he was "shocked and saddened" by Northam's actions but also that he's glad the governor apologized. He even said the governor's been his friend and has always treated him and his family with respect.

However, near the end of the statement, Fairfax runs out of nice things to say about Northam.

"While his career has been marked by service to children, soldiers, and consituents, I cannot condone the actions from his past that, at the very least, suggest a comfort with Virginia's darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping and intimidation," Fairfax's statement reads. "Now more than ever, we must make decisions in the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia."

Northam, when pressed on questions about if he considered darkening his face to dress up as Michael Jackson as "blackface," said he'd darkened his face and put shoe polish under it but pushed back against calling it blackface. During his press conference, he insisted he could use facial recognition technology to prove it wasn't him in the yearbook photo.

The Virginia Black Caucus amplified their call on Northam to resign during his press conference, even though Northam doesn't consider darkening his face as blackface and also intended to prove his innocence through technology as far as the yearbook photo is concerned.

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