Virginia political turmoil deepens as AG admits to past use of blackface

Virginia Gov.-elect Lt. Gov Ralph Northam center walks down the reviewing stand with Lt. Gov-elect Justin Fairfax right and Attorney General Mark Herring as they participate in a walk through for their Saturday Inauguration at the Capitol in Richmo

Democrats swept all three statewide races in Virginia in 2017, but all three office-holders are now embroiled in multiple scandals that could result in Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox becoming the commonwealth's new governor.

Northam has come under pressure from almost the entire Democratic establishment to resign after the discovery of a photo on his profile page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook of someone in blackface standing next to a person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

A day later, he denied he was in the picture.

Northam, 59, acknowledged last weekend to having worn blackface - a practice dating to 19th-century minstrel shows caricaturing slaves - in 1984 to impersonate Michael Jackson.

Then Virginia's second-in-command, Justin Fairfax, who is African-American, was accused of sexual assault.

Fairfax had always been considered a rising star in the party who drew praise for taking a stand against a ceremony honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee just last month. They released a joint statement calling for an investigation into Fairfax and urging Herring to continue to be "engaged in in-depth discussions with leaders and others in Virginia ... if he is to regain (the public's) trust".

College professor Vanessa Tyson has alleged that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Tyson told Scott that she had gone to the Washington Post with her story and that she had told the Post to use Scott as someone who could attest to her character, ABC reported, citing aides with knowledge of the communications.

Fairfax has said that he takes the allegation very seriously but that the encounter in 2004 was "100 percent consensual". Ed O'Keefe reports. "At this point he is moving toward the latter option", said Cornell Brooks, a Virginia-based professor at the Harvard Kennedy School who has also served as the president of the NAACP.

Herring, who like Northam is white, is second in line to succeed the governor as attorney general. He told reporters in the Capitol that he couldn't judge yet what should happen to Fairfax or Herring but that Democrats shouldn't worry about the political consequences. That's because of a weird win in 2018 in which Cox's election run was so close to his opponent that his name was pulled out of a ceramic bowl designed at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Northam won the governorship in 2017, and Democrats made big gains in the state, in part because of a backlash against Trump, and has moved to within striking distance of a majority in both houses.

Some Northam supporters are scrambling to show that the governor still has backing among members of his party.

Among those who called for Northam's resignation was Mark Herring, Virginia's attorney general who condemned the photo as "indefensible", "profoundly offensive" and "shocking and deeply disappointing".

Julian Castro, former Housing and Urban Development secretary, added an important distinction in his comments from The Washington Post, separating himself from his rivals for the nomination by asserting that he thinks Tyson is telling the truth.

He said that it was no longer possible for Mr Northam to lead the state. Brown weighed in on the political crisis in Virginia, saying her counterpart there should step down and that the problem of whites going in blackface is due in part to a lack of awareness and stupidity.

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