Northam digs in, says he'll focus remainder of term on racial 'equity'

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) continued to dig in on Saturday, saying he does not plan to resign but instead focus on racial "equity" in the three remaining years of his term.

Northam spoke to The Washington Post for his first interview since he became embroiled in scandal after a blackface photo emerged earlier this month.

“It’s been a horrific week for Virginia. A lot of individuals across Virginia have been hurt,” he told the Post.

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The governor said he was "shocked" when he first saw the yearbook photo on an iPhone, saying he "overreacted" by putting out an initial statement that said he was one of the individuals pictured. 

“If I had it to do over I would step back and take a deep breath,” he told the Post, adding that Eastern Virginia Medical School was launching an “independent investigation” into the yearbook page.

Northam's initial statement released by his office late last week said he was one of the individuals in the photo from his page in a 1984 medical school yearbook. The photo showed a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

A day later, Northam reversed course, saying he did not believe he was either person in the photo while admitting to darkening his skin once for a Michael Jackson dance contest in 1984.

Various Democrats in Virginia and nationally have called on him to resign after the discover of the yearbook photo and his initial response to the controversy.

Northam told the Post that the incident made the people of Virginia more aware of racial inequities.

“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,” he 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," he said. "It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”

Northam told the Post that he has been working to increase his understanding of racial inequality by reading "The Case For Reparations" by Ta-Nehisi Coates and chapters of "Roots" by Alex Haley. He said he also met with African-American legislators and community leaders and became more informed about the history of blackface. 

He said he plans to incorporate sensitivity training into Virginia's government and also its schools and universities. He also hopes to work on increasing Medicaid enrollment and affordable housing opportunities and plans to more actively push to get rid of Confederate monuments that people might find offensive.

The leadership crisis in Virginia deepened earlier this week after a woman came forward to accuse Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) of sexual assault. A second woman came forward on Friday, saying he raped her when they were students at Duke University in 2000. He has denied both allegations.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who would be next in line for governor if Northam and Fairfax both resigned, also admitted this week that he wore blackface while dressing up as a rapper at a party in college in 1980. He issued a statement apologizing.