ON MONDAY, Gov. Ralph Northam announced he would not be delivering the commencement speech at his alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, nor will he attend any other graduation ceremonies this season.
Last week, the governor appeared ready to emerge from his self-imposed hiatus that began in February following the release of a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook. Northam initially issued an apology for the photo on Feb. 1, the day it surfaced, but the next day, he recanted and claimed it wasn’t him in the picture.
At a press conference, he denied it was him in the photo but admitted to wearing blackface during a Michael Jackson skit in 1984, which only seemed to make matters worse. Democratic leaders on both the state and national levels demanded he resign. But Northam insisted he was going to remain in office.
For more than two months, the governor made almost no public appearances (although he was able to work well enough with the General Assembly to pass some significant legislation).
But by April 10, Northam seemed ready to re-enter the public arena and state Democrats appeared ready to welcome him back on the campaign trail. As all 140 seats in both the House of Delegates and state Senate are on the ballot this year, candidates were willing to see if his presence might be helpful.
On Wednesday, he attended a private fundraiser at the Richmond home of Del. Betsy Carr. No protesters were present and the event seems to have gone smoothly.
But that wasn’t the case with the April 14 barbecue fundraiser for Fairfax Sen. David Marsden that was held in Burke. About 90 demonstrators from the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP, the Republican Party of Virginia and some pro-life advocates assembled outside the neighborhood’s community center before the event began. Because of that, the governor decided not to attend, citing “safety concerns.” Apparently his concerns now extend to graduations and other public events.
Northam’s spokeswoman, Ofirah Yheskel, told The Washington Post “the governor’s decision to stay away from graduations was not a reversal of that trend [to appear in public again]. He decided weeks ago to skip those ceremonies ‘out of concern he would pull focus from the achievements of graduates and their families.’ ”
While that decision might have some validity to it, we find it very unfair to the schools and students who now must scramble to find new commencement speakers.
And we can’t help but wonder: Is Northam planning to remain a recluse for the rest of his term? Calls for his resignation continue to come from voices on the left and right and protesters are going to continue doing what they do. He isn’t going to be able to avoid that. But to remain inaccessible and out of sight is unfair to his constituents. Perhaps he needs to reconsider his decision to remain in office.