By ALAN BLINDER and JONATHAN MARTIN, nytimes.com
Virginia’s governor acknowledged on Friday that he was photographed more than 30 years ago in a costume that was “clearly racist and offensive” — admitting that he had dressed either as a member of the Ku Klux Klan or in blackface — but resisted a flood of calls for his resignation from national and state Democrats.
“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now,” Ralph Northam, the Democratic governor, said in a statement on Friday evening.
In a subsequent video, Mr. Northam said he was “ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust” and was committed to staying in office “through the remainder of my term.”
Mr. Northam issued his statement hours after the photograph — which was included on his 1984 yearbook page from Eastern Virginia Medical School and appeared alongside other pictures of himself — became public. Neither person in the black-and-white photograph was identified, and Mr. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, did not confirm which costume he had worn.
He faced intense pressure on Friday night to step down, as Democrats moved swiftly to send a zero-tolerance message to a governor whose 2017 election marked the party’s most significant victory since losing the White House.
The first calls came from Democratic presidential candidates, some of whom had traveled to Virginia to campaign with Mr. Northam just over a year ago. By the end of the evening, Senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, had all urged Mr. Northam to resign.
In Virginia, Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond and three Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation, Representatives Donald McEachin, Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria, urged Mr. Northam to step down.
Mr. McEachin, who is African-American, said he was “deeply disappointed and dismayed by the horrific picture of Governor Northam that surfaced today.”
“Virginia has a particularly sordid history with racism from the first enslaved Africans on our shores, to the capital of the Confederacy to massive resistance to the struggles African-American Virginians face today,” he said in a statement.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus initially stopped just short of demanding his resignation. But after meeting with the governor, it said, “It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing.”
“What has been revealed is disgusting, reprehensible and offensive. We feel complete betrayal,” the caucus said in an earlier statement, adding that “these pictures rip off the scabs of an excruciatingly painful history and are a piercing reminder of this nation’s sins.”
Virginia’s two Democratic senators, Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine — former governors themselves — gently nudged Mr. Northam toward the exits, issuing simultaneous statements urging him to reflect on how to move forward.
But by the end of the evening, even after Mr. Northam called leading Virginia Democrats to apologize, many in the state were dispensing with subtlety.
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Mr. Northam’s immediate predecessor and a potential White House candidate, said his onetime ticketmate was in an “untenable” position and that it was time for him to resign. And after holding a late-night conference call, the Virginia state House and Senate caucuses said the same, effectively rendering him without allies in the State Capitol.
Virginia Republicans moved first. The chairman of the state Republican Party, Jack Wilson, called for the governor’s resignation and condemned the picture as “wholly inappropriate” before Mr. Northam admitted he was in it.
And initially, some Virginia Democrats defended Mr. Northam and said he should not quit.
“The picture was in extremely poor taste, no question about that, but his life since then has been anything but,” said Richard Saslaw, the Democratic leader of the Virginia Senate. “He’s had a career of helping people of all races.”
In his written statement, Mr. Northam attempted to make the same case, stating that the photograph “is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine and in public service.”
But he sustained another blow when CBS News, citing a 1981 Virginia Military Institute yearbook, reported that Mr. Northam had been known as “Coonman” as an undergraduate student there. The governor has not addressed the nickname, which contains a racial slur.
If Mr. Northam were to resign, Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax would assume the governor’s office. Mr. Fairfax, a Democrat, was the second black person to be elected to statewide office in Virginia. Mr. Northam spoke to the lieutenant governor on Friday before he issued his apology, according to a Virginia Democrat familiar with the conversation.
The lieutenant governor did not comment on Friday.
In his statement, Mr. Northam signaled that he did not intend to cede power to Mr. Fairfax.
“I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused,” he said. “I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their governor.”
Even if Mr. Northam defies the sudden crush of pressure to quit, he will not face any immediate electoral repercussions. Virginia bars governors from serving two consecutive terms, and both of the state’s United States senators are Democrats, leaving his political options limited.
Still, the news of the yearbook image, which the website Big League Politics first reported on Friday, could undermine Mr. Northam’s authority in Richmond and tarnish his tenure, which, just more than a year in, had already been marked by several accomplishments on Democratic priorities.
Mr. Northam rode to victory in 2017, when he soundly defeated Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, thanks to the suburban backlash against President Trump. Virginia Democrats nearly reclaimed control of the State House the same year. Their success prompted Republicans to finally give up their opposition to Medicaid expansion and the measure passed with bipartisan support, offering the governor a signature accomplishment.
Then Mr. Northam announced last year that Amazon had selected Arlington County, Va., just outside of Washington, for one of its new facilities as part of its “HQ2” search, bringing the promise of thousands of new jobs and revenue to the state.
The Amazon news was especially sweet for state leaders because it let them further burnish the state’s image as a progressive beacon in the South and a leader in the new economy.
But Mr. Northam abruptly became a polarizing figure this week when, amid a debate about abortion access in Virginia, he gave a radio interview that led to accusations that he supported infanticide.
Asked in the interview about a proposal to allow abortion in the final trimester to protect the health of the mother, the governor said late-term abortions would be permissible in cases of severe deformities or nonviable fetuses, and described a situation in which such an infant would be delivered, and then a “discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
Republicans immediately argued that Mr. Northam was willing to support an infant’s killing after birth. Mr. Northam disputed that characterization, writing on Twitter, “I have devoted my life to caring for children and any insinuation otherwise is shameful and disgusting.”
Mr. Northam earned his medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School before completing residencies elsewhere. He settled in the Norfolk area, where he practiced pediatric neurology at a children’s hospital. He also joined the faculty of his medical school, where, according to his official biography, he taught medicine and ethics.
Mr. Northam was a largely apolitical doctor before being elected to the State Senate in 2007. He voted twice for George W. Bush before running for the legislature as a Democrat.
Vivian Wang and Astead W. Herndon contributed reporting.R