Scandals cartoon

When Ralph Northam announced his run for governor, one biographical fact made me conclude Ed Gillespie had a problem. Northam’s 10 years in public office, military service and career as a pediatrician didn’t worry me. What did was Northam’s election as the 1981 president of the Virginia Military Institute Honor Court by his fellow Keydets. VMI was then all-male.

Having served as president of the VMI Honor Court meant Ralph Northam would be a formidable candidate.  

VMI has a rigid single sanction honor system. Keydets who lie, cheat or steal are expelled. A Keydet’s dismissal is announced to an assembly of the entire corps in a scary middle-of-the-night ceremony with drums rolling and the honor court in full dress uniform. Keydets are told the name of the person expelled may never be spoken again.

On Feb. 1, after a picture on Northam’s page in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook surface showing a man in blackface drinking beer with person wearing a Klan costume, Northam issued a clumsy statement admitting he was in the picture, although he did not say which costume he wore. He then apologized.

Blacks aren’t shocked to learn whites did stupid racist acts in their youth. If the governor’s explanation was he made stupid mistakes 35 years ago, based on his life since then, most Virginians would have believed him and accepted his apology.

Then the governor changed his story.

On Feb. 2, Northam held a bizarre press conference where he denied being in the picture, and he said he planned to use facial recognition software to learn who was. He said he didn’t buy the yearbook -- and presumably did not know about the picture -- and won a dance contest in Texas dressed as Michael Jackson in blackface by moonwalking.  

Governor Northam isn’t credible if he contends nobody ever mentioned the picture to him between 1984 and now.  He’s not believable when he claims to know nothing about who is in the picture or how it got there.

I firmly believe the 1981 president of the VMI Honor Court publicly lied that day.  

Governor Northam should apply the honor code he applied to other Keydets to himself and resign.  

In the ensuing social media frenzy, Attorney General Mark Herring quickly began shoveling dirt into Northam’s political grave.  On Feb. 2, Herring said: “It is no longer possible for Gov. Northam to lead our commonwealth and it is time for him to step down. I have spoken with Lt. Gov. Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support … ”   

Two problems arose after Herring’s statement.  First, days later Herring admitted he went to a party in blackface as a freshman at the University of Virginia in 1980.  Second, two women accused Lt. Gov. Fairfax of sexual assault.

I know Mark Herring casually.  He isn’t a racist. He’s a decent fellow.  I suspect black people would give him high marks for listening to their views and advocating for their interests.  

It was foolish to dress in blackface in college. It was hypocritical for Herring to call for the governor’s resignation when he also had dressed in blackface.      

The attorney general doesn’t need to resign, but he shouldn’t run for office in 2021.  If the opportunity to serve as governor arises, he should remain in his current office.

Only in Virginia would disclosures about elected officials dressing in blackface set in motion events jeopardizing the career of the commonwealth’s second black lieutenant governor.

There is a difference between a man who put a vile picture in his yearbook or dressed in blackface in his youth and a man who sexually assaults women.

Dr. Vanessa Tyson, a college professor, alleges Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted her in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.  Fairfax does not deny a sexual encounter; he contends what happened was consensual.

Meredith Watson alleges Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2000 when both were undergraduates at Duke University.     

I found Dr. Tyson’s account specific and truthful.

Unless articles of impeachment are introduced in the House of Delegates or a criminal charge filed in Boston, there will be no formal process to adjudicate what happened.      

Justin Fairfax cannot serve as lieutenant governor with these allegations unresolved.  

He should resign.   

Politicians should remember “honesty is the best policy” and “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Despite the rapid pace of information in the internet age, we all should be more cautious and patient before calling on an elected official to resign.

___

Charlie King is a Leesburg-based attorney and was the 2015 Republican nominee for Chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.

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