Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has endorsed three statewide candidates for Virginia’s 2021 elections who called for his resignation after he became embroiled in a scandal in 2019 involving a racist yearbook photo.
Northam, who cannot seek a consecutive term as governor under Virginia’s constitution, has announced endorsements for Democrat candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. All three candidates embraced Northam’s support for their upcoming races after having demanded his resignation in 2019.
Northam, at the time of the scandal, faced calls to resign from top Democrats statewide and nationally after a medical school yearbook photo from the 1980s emerged of two costumed individuals, one in Ku Klux Klan garb and one in blackface, allegedly featuring Northam. He admitted to being one of the individuals in the photo, then, in a bizarre press conference, reversed course, denying he was in the photo but admitting he “darkened” his face around the same time for a Michael Jackson costume.
The governor refused to resign but apologized for his “harmful actions.” Now, some of those who joined in calls for his resignation are quickly accepting Northam’s coveted endorsement this year as they seek statewide office.
1. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) for governor
Northam announced his endorsement on April 8 for his predecessor McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton ally, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, and one of two white candidates in the five-person Democrat primary field.
McAuliffe in 2019 had said the governor put himself and the state in an “untenable” situation because of the yearbook photo and that he should resign:
The situation that he has put himself and the Commonwealth of Virginia in is untenable. It’s time for Ralph to step down, and for the Commonwealth to move forward.
— Terry McAuliffe (@TerryMcAuliffe) February 2, 2019
Despite calling Northam’s actions at the time “racist, unacceptable and inexcusable,” McAuliffe has shifted his tune, praising Northam in a social media post on April 8, saying he is “honored to have his support”:
Governor Northam has been leading Virginia through this crisis so he knows exactly what it’s going to take to rebuild from the pandemic: bold plans and tested leadership.
I am honored to have his support. https://t.co/q7ktlLqFpB
— Terry McAuliffe (@TerryMcAuliffe) April 8, 2021
2. Del. Hala Ayala (D) for lieutenant governor
Ayala announced Monday that Northam had endorsed her in her bid for lieutenant governor, stating Northam’s “leadership has transformed our Commonwealth, and because of him, we have made progress that has bettered the lives of millions of Virginians. His lasting legacy will be that of justice and equity.”
Her words stand starkly against a statement she released two years ago about the governor:
See my official statement on the call for Governor Northam’s resignation here. pic.twitter.com/I08slV4erD
— Hala Ayala (@HalaAyala) February 2, 2019
On February 2, 2019, after his backtracking press conference, Ayala reiterated her call for Northam’s resignation in conjunction with the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, saying Northam “has irrevocably lost the faith and trust of the people he was elected to serve. Changing his public story today now casts further doubt on his ability to regain that trust”:
This has been very painful for all that have put their trust in Governor Northam. I stand with my fellow @VaBlackCaucus, he should do the right thing by resigning and putting the people of the Commonwealth first. We must now focus on coming together to heal and move forward. pic.twitter.com/bJaKox4DjY
— Hala Ayala (@HalaAyala) February 2, 2019
Ayala has since applauded Northam’s leadership on several occasions and said Monday in a social media post she is “honored to earn” his and his wife’s support in her bid for office:
— Hala Ayala (@HalaAyala) April 26, 2021
3. Del. Jay Jones (D) for attorney general
In his first endorsement for the state’s off-year elections, Northam on March 4 announced he would back Jones for attorney general, saying, “Jay Jones has stood with me every step of the way in our journey to make Virginia a more just and equitable place to live.”
Jones stated in a reply:
I couldn’t be more humbled to receive Governor Northam’s endorsement in this race. He leads with conviction and has ushered in a new era of equity, optimism, and prosperity in this Commonwealth for all Virginians, no matter what you look like or where you come from. Simply put, Ralph Northam is the most consequential governor in the history of this Commonwealth.
I’ve been enormously proud to stand with him every step of the way over the years, and I am excited to carry on the legacy that he and the First Lady are building.
Jones, who had been less direct in calling for Northam’s resignation, was a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus alongside Ayala when the group demanded the governor step down:
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Addresses Northam’s Refusal to Resign pic.twitter.com/z8pt15Uq3U
— VLBC (@VaBlackCaucus) February 2, 2019
Jones in February alluded to feeling remorseful about being associated with quick condemnations of Northam over the 2019 scandal, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Virginia Rising Action, the state arm of the conservative research group America Rising, first reported on the trio of Northam endorsements and lambasted the Democrat endorsees for their “double-standards.”
“The only bipartisanship we’ve seen in Richmond over the last four years was political leaders on both sides of the aisle calling for Governor Northam to resign after his racist yearbook photo made our Commonwealth the laughingstock of the country,” stated the group’s executive director, Tucker Davis. “Touting Northam’s endorsement further proves that if it weren’t for double-standards, Virginia Democrats would have no standards at all.”
Write to Ashley Oliver at [email protected].