JUPITER, Fla. (AP) – Most 2020 Democratic presidential candidates quickly joined the call for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to resign following the discovery of a racist photo in his medical school yearbook more than 30 years ago.
Northam apologized twice Friday after the photo surfaced and said Saturday he would remain in office despite widespread calls for him to step down.
But he has lost the support of prominent Democrats in Virginia and beyond, including from the Democratic Party’s historically diverse and growing field of 2020 candidates, which includes two African-American senators, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California.
“These images arouse centuries of anger, anguish, and racist violence and they’ve eroded all confidence in Gov. Northam’s ability to lead,” Booker said Friday on Twitter. “We should expect more from our elected officials. He should resign.” Booker had entered the presidential race that morning, which also was the start of Black History Month.
Harris said the “stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government. The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.”
Added former U.S. housing secretary Julian Castro: “This behavior was racist and unconscionable.
Governor Northam should resign.”
Northam’s page in the 1984 yearbook from Eastern Virginia Medical School shows a picture of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood.
After the photo went public Friday, Northam issued a statement saying he was “sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo.” On Saturday, however, he said he was now convinced he was not in the photo and had never even seen the yearbook until Friday.
Other Democratic presidential candidates calling on Northam to leave office include Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney.
“There aren’t two sets of rules for our friends and our foes: Right is right and wrong is wrong,” Gillibrand said on Twitter late Friday. “Americans deserve to be respected by their leaders, and racism cannot be excused in our government or anywhere else. Having seen the photo, I believe Governor Northam should resign.”
Delaney said the appearance of the photo would “impair his ability to have the kind of moral authority that is needed to lead people through the painful and important discussion about race relations in our country.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, both potential 2020 presidential contenders, weighed in on Twitter on Saturday, saying it was time for Northam to hand over to Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
Biden said Fairfax, a Democrat and only the second African-American to win statewide office in Virginia, “is the leader Virginia needs now.”