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Gov. Ralph Northam denies being in racist photo and doesn't plan to resign

The image on the left shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. The page shows a picture, at right, of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor. It's unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him. (Eastern Virginia Medical School via AP) On the right, a file photo of Gov. Northam. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (WJLA/AP) — In a press conference Saturday afternoon, Gov. Ralph Northam reiterated that he does not believe he was in a racist picture in his 1984 medical yearbook and that he has no immediate plans to resign.

Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook page shows a picture of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor.

Over the course of the press conference, the governor did admit that he had used shoe polish on his face to participate in a Michael Jackson dance contest in San Antonio and says he takes responsibility for that and has learned from it.

Northam is calling Virginia Democrats to try and gain support. Nearly his entire political base has called for him to resign.

After the yearbook picture went public Friday, Northam issued a statement saying he was "sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo."

The governor said Saturday, though, that he has no memory of wearing either of the racist costumes and doesn't not believe he is in the picture after all.

"I have a very close friend, who was my assistant during the campaign and during some of our long rides around the Commonwealth, the very issue of 'blackfacing' came up. He did a really good job communicating with me about why that's so offensive," Northam said.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the state House Democratic Caucus and the state Senate Democratic Caucus all called on Northam to resign late Friday, along with several key progressive groups that have been some of the governor's closest political allies.

The yearbook images were first published Friday afternoon by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. The Virginian-Pilot later obtained a copy from Eastern Virginia Medical School, which Northam attended. The photo shows two people looking at the camera — one in blackface wearing a hat, bow tie and plaid pants; the other in a full Ku Klux Klan robe.

An Associated Press reporter saw the yearbook page and confirmed its authenticity at the medical school.

In his first apology, issued in a written statement, Northam called the costume he wore "clearly racist and offensive," but he didn't say which one he had worn.

He later issued a video statement saying he was "deeply sorry" but still committed to serving the "remainder of my term."

"I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust," Northam said. "I am not the person in that uniform, and I am not the person on the right."

Minutes after after Gov. Northam's presser, DNC chair Tom Perez issued a statement calling for Northam's resignation, stating:

“I spoke with Governor Northam this morning. His past actions are completely antithetical to everything the Democratic Party stands for. Virginians and people across the country deserve better from their leaders, and it is clear that Ralph Northam has lost their trust and his ability to govern. The Democratic Party believes that diversity is our greatest strength and that hatred and racism have no place in our democracy. And we will never hesitate to hold accountable people who violate those values, regardless of their party affiliation. It's time for Ralph Northam to step aside and let Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax serve Virginians as their next Governor. Justin is a dedicated public servant who is committed to building a brighter future for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

A small number of protesters stood outside the governor's mansion Saturday to demand his resignation.

Northam's departure would mean current Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who is only the second African-American to win statewide office in Virginia, would be the next governor. Northam's term was set to end in 2022.

Black lawmakers said they met with Northam Friday evening, and said in a statement they appreciate his service.

"But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as governor," the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said.

State Sen. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, a close ally of Northam and longtime African-American lawmaker, said black leaders felt "mortally wounded" by the photo and that he has no option but to resign.

"He betrayed us," she told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Others said there was no question he should step down. Among them: Democratic presidential hopefuls Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren; newly elected Democratic U.S. Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia; the NAACP and Planned Parenthood.

Northam spent years actively courting the black community in the lead up to his 2017 gubernatorial run, building relationships that helped him win both the primary and the general election. He's a member of a predominantly black church on Virginia's Eastern Shore, where he grew up.

"It's a matter of relationships and trust. That's not something that you build overnight," Northam told the AP during a 2017 campaign stop while describing his relationship with the black community. Northam, a folksy pediatric neurologist who is personal friends with many GOP lawmakers, has recently come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.

Last week, Florida's secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.

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