'A horrific week for Virginia': Gov. Ralph Northam takes on blackface scandal in first interview
The top three Democrats in Virginia are embroiled in scandals; two over offensive racial depictions, and the other over sexual assault accusations. USA TODAY
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam sidestepped calls for his resignation, instead saying in his first interview since he admitted to wearing blackface that he would spend the rest of his time in office focused on mending racial tensions.
Speaking with the Washington Post, Northam laid out his plans moving forward and addressed the tumultuous week that left the future for Virginia's top three politicians uncertain.
"It’s been a horrific week for Virginia. A lot of individuals across Virginia have been hurt," Northam told the Post.
The interview is Northam's first since a yearbook photo surfaced, showing one man wearing blackface and another person in Ku Klux Klan robes. At first, Northam apologized and acknowledged he was in the photo but a day later he rescinded his remarks and denied knowing anything about the photo.
However, Northam admitted he wore blackface for a dance contest in the 1980s where he dressed up like Michael Jackson. Since then, his No. 2, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was accused by two women of sexual assault and his attorney general, Mark Herring, who is third in line to run the state, admitted he, too, wore blackface.
The news left Virginians in shock and spurred countless calls for the men to resign.
Northam resisted those calls again on Saturday, telling the Post that he would instead focus the rest of his three years in office on racial tensions in the state and inequality.
Sexual assault allegations: Democratic Party of Virginia wants Lt. Gov. Fairfax to resign
"It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity," Northam said. "There are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entrepreneurship. And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. 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 he is working with his cabinet on policies that will help mend the issues in the state and said he's spent the week learning and talking with black lawmakers who told him stories of how minorities are treated across the United States.
Northam also said he was planning a "reconciliation" tour across the state to talk with constituents about what happened and address the issue of race.
Also on Saturday, Northam made his first public appearance since the controversy. He attended a funeral for a state trooper killed in a shootout. Northam was not listed as a speaker in the funeral program.
The service in the town of Chilhowie for Lucas B. Dowell was four hours west of the political tumult in Richmond.