(Bloomberg) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, in his first interview since a racist photo in his medical school yearbook emerged over a week ago, said he’ll finish his four-year term in office and use the time to pursue an agenda of racial reconciliation and “equity.”
Northam spoke to reporters from the Washington Post for 30 minutes on Saturday in the formal front parlor of the 1813 Executive Mansion in Richmond, Virginia.
Separately, Northam’s deputy, Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, is under increasing pressure to resign over allegations of sexual assault.
Northam said he’s asked his cabinet secretaries to come up with specific proposals to begin addressing issues of inequality, such as expanding access to health care, housing and transportation, and to begin reporting those suggestions on Monday.
“It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity.”
“It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes,” Northam said.
Northam, 59, told his staff Friday he won’t resign. He maintains that he’s not in the yearbook photograph of one person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes. The governor couldn’t explain why he initially took responsibility for the photo on Feb. 1 — only to reverse himself within a day — other than to say that he was “shocked” when he first saw it on an iPhone.
Meanwhile, Fairfax faced two allegations as of Friday from women who came forward in recent weeks to accuse him of sexually assaulting them in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Fairfax has denied the allegations.
Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have predicted the scandal plaguing Virginia’s top Democratic officials will give them the opportunity to make political gains in a state that’s increasingly voted for Democrats in recent elections.
Democratic U.S. House members from Virginia have called on Fairfax to resign, as have Democratic senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey — both 2020 presidential contenders.
One Virginia state legislator, Democrat Patrick Hope, said he’s planning to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax if he doesn’t resign. On Friday, the Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association removed Fairfax from its leadership ranks, naming officials from Delaware and Washington state in his place.