Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s office put much of the business of governing on hold Tuesday as the Democrat thought about whether he can stay in the job despite the outrage over a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page.
The 59-year-old Northam spent the day talking with top advisers about whether he can govern effectively in light of the turmoil over the photo, which depicts someone in blackface standing next to another person in a hood and robe of the Ku Klux Klan, a group that used violence to fight the civil rights movement.
The picture, which surfaced Friday, set off a barrage of calls for his resignation from his own party. And with uncertainty hanging over state government, former allies were growing impatient.
State Senator Louise Lucas, a prominent African American lawmaker who has pressed for Northam to step down, said the governor doesn’t need to take a few more days to make up his mind.
“I am so praying that he will do that and get it behind us,” Lucas said. “What’s a little bit more of time going to do for us?”
Northam gave no public indication of which way he was leaning, but his first official words since the weekend offered a sign of the difficulty he faces in carrying out his duties. He issued a statement Tuesday offering condolences on the killing of a state trooper in a shootout, prompting a flurry of Twitter comments urging him to resign.
In a rare positive sign, state Senator Richard Stuart issued a statement of support, becoming the first Republican lawmaker to do so. And protests around the governor’s mansion died down, with only one anti-Northam demonstrator present at midday.
“Poor judgment 34 years ago should not outweigh a selfless service to people from every walk of life,” Stuart said.
Northam, a pediatric neurologist who graduated from Eastern Virginia Medical School and came to politics late in life, is one year into his four-year term. If Northam resigns, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax will become the second black governor in Virginia history.
The governor admitted at first that he was in the photo without saying which costume he was wearing. A day later, he denied he was in the picture. But he acknowledged he once used shoe polish to blacken his face and look like Michael Jackson at a dance contest in Texas decades ago.