How Virginia's top 3 leaders are handling scandals

FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2018 file photo, 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 at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. The political crisis in Virginia exploded Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, when the state's attorney general confessed to putting on blackface in the 1980s and a woman went public with detailed allegations of sexual assault against the lieutenant governor. With Northam's career already hanging by a thread over a racist photo, the day's developments threatened to take down all three of Virginia's top elected officials. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

RICHMOND - Gov. Ralph Northam, D, reached out to Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, D, and Attorney General Mark Herring, D, on Thursday as all three men weather scandals and calls for resignation.

Northam, facing scrutiny for his ties to a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook, spoke by phone with Fairfax to say he was thinking about him and his family as the lieutenant governor denies sexual assault allegations, according to someone close to Northam.

The governor also tried to reach Herring, who on Wednesday revealed that he darkened his face to dress as a rap singer during a college party in 1980, when he was 19.



While Northam and Herring had not yet spoken by midday, the person said, the governor's wife - first lady Pam Northam - has sent encouraging text messages to the wives of both other men.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Thursday that the state's Democratic congressional delegation, which had called for Northam's resignation, has decided to back Herring, as he continues to try to firm up support from Virginia's black leaders.

Kaine said that the delegation remained unified in its demand that Northam resign following his admission that he also wore blackface at a dance competition in 1984, in addition to the racist photo in his medical school yearbook.

"We are likely to come out with a statement soon on the Herring case that, I think, we feel that we are generally in the same position - that he reached out to each of us individually, very apologetic," Kaine told reporters in the U.S. Capitol after most of the Democratic delegation met in his office. "He is in dialogue with the legislative black caucus and African-American leadership in the state, and they have been impressed with his sincerity while they've been very disappointed with what happened."

Kaine, a former governor, said that the lawmakers felt Herring had been sincere in his apologies in a way that Northam had not, but the attorney general still "needs to answer questions of the press and the public too" to shore up support to continue in office.

But the federal lawmakers could not agree on how to proceed on the allegations of sexual assault against Fairfax.

"Everybody is still grappling with the allegation and trying to - we all believe it should be taken seriously but I don't think you'll see us reach a conclusion about that," Kaine said, adding that the lawmakers would monitor events. "We're going to watch it over the next couple of days."

Meanwhile, for the first time Thursday, unflattering revelations spread to a powerful Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment was managing editor of the VMI yearbook in 1968 when it featured several photos of people in blackface and included a number of racial slurs, including one use of the n-word.

Norment, who was managing editor of the yearbook, declined to answer questions from a reporter in the hall of the Capitol but later released a statement disavowing any responsibility for the offensive content, which was first reported by the Virginian-Pilot.

"The use of blackface is abhorrent in our society and I emphatically condemn it," Norment said in the statement. "As one of seven working on a 359-page yearbook, I cannot endorse or associate myself with every photo, entry, or word on each page. However, I am not in any of the photos referenced on pages 82 or 122, nor did I take any of the photos in question."

Norment also noted that he supported integration of VMI and said he later led effort to include women.

Norment joined other top Republicans in the General Assembly over the weekend in calling for Northam to resign because of the med school yearbook photo. Northam initially took responsibility for the picture, which shows one person in blackface and another in Klan robes, but now says it is not him. He admitted that he darkened his face later that same year to appear as Michael Jackson in a dance contest.

Whispers about the possibility that still more prominent political figures would face embarrassing revelations spread around the Capitol as lawmakers went about their work. It wasn't all scandal: In the House of Delegates, Republicans and Democrats alike cheered at the news that their team of lawmakers had defeated a team from the state Senate in a charity basketball game the night before.

But that was a welcome break from what has become unrelenting drumbeat of grim news.

Northam and Herring have stayed out of the public eye this week, while Fairfax has had to appear on the dais of the state Senate as part of his responsibilities. But on Wednesday, after the woman who accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004 released details of the episode, Fairfax slipped out of public view once the Senate finished business for the day.

The furor over his fellow Democrats fed Northam's impulse to stay put for now, according to two people familiar with his thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

If Northam should step down, Fairfax would succeed him, and Herring would be next in line.

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