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Political expert: Why Northam statement may not be enough to save his job

RICHMOND, Va. -- A political expert said the initial reaction to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest statement on the racist photo that appeared in his 1984 yearbook may not be enough to save his governorship.

Northam said Saturday afternoon that he does not think he is one of the two people in a photograph of a man wearing blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe that appears on his Eastern Virginia Medical School senior yearbook page.

Dr. Bob Holsworth, a political analyst for WTVR CBS 6, pointed to the governor said that he did not know about the photo until Friday.

“I think what is more important, however, is his second claim that he had nothing to do with that photo showing up there. That somehow it was a mistake, misplaced from another page.”

Additionally, the governor said that the three other photos on the page were submitted by him.

“Now he says that that second photo, the offensive photo, was misplaced," Northam said. "And that he never saw it, because he was in the Army and never bought a copy of the yearbook and no one ever told him about it.”

Northam said he apologized for the photo Friday evening because he assumed it was from an incident he recalled when he darkened his skin for a dance competition in 1984.

“He basically said that the reason I did this last night was, I had this other memory of darkening my face, as he called it, to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest, which he noted that he won in San Antonio,” Holsworth said.

As lawmakers from both parties statewide and across the country continue to call for Northam to resign, Holsworth said he does not think the governor’s latest statement will make a difference.

“I’m not sure that today he did that much to change that,” Holsworth noted. “He certainly came across as he often does, as a modest, humble man that’s likable in many, many ways.”

That said, Holsworth said that Northam  admitted that if he cannot govern, he will have to revisit the issue.

“He did say that if it becomes clear he that [he] cannot become effective, that [he] can’t be efficient as governor, then [he] will have to revisit that issue,” Holsworth said.

What do you think? Did the governor's statement Saturday change your mind? Weigh in on the WTVR CBS 6 News Facebook page. 

Northam denies being in racist photo, but recalls darkening skin for 1984 dance contest

Northam said he does not believe he is either person in the racist photo that appeared in his 1984 yearbook but that he did once darken his face to resemble Michael Jackson during a dance contest in 1984.

In a remarkable, hour-long news conference at the Governor's Mansion in Richmond, Northam defended himself from the cacophony of calls for his resignation, but acknowledged that he had made mistakes on race in his past, like when, in a separate incident, he darkened his face to resemble Michael Jackson in 1984 during a dance contest in San Antonio.

"I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo," Northam said, denying that he had ever worn a KKK robe and hood or been drunk enough to forget a moment like this. "This was not me in that picture. That was not Ralph Northam."

The racist photograph shows one person dressed in blackface and another in the KKK's signature white hood and robes.

Despite numerous calls for him to resign, Northam said he would try to win over those who want him out.

"I intend to continue doing the business of Virginia," he said, adding that resigning would be the easier way out.

"I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. I could avoid an honest conversation about harmful actions from my past," he said. "I cannot in good conscience chose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile."

Calls for resignation continue

But his news conference did not immediately win over those who had demanded his ouster.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, a group of lawmakers that had met with Northam on Friday, said the governor's press conference just renewed their belief that he should go.

"In light of his public admission and apology for his decision to appear in the photo, he has irrevocably lost the faith and trust of the people he was elected to serve," the caucus said. "Changing his public story today now casts further doubt on his ability to regain that trust."

Northam, in one of the most bizarre moments in an otherwise extraordinary press conference, vividly recalled the dance contest where he dressed as Jackson, the legendary pop icon.

"I had the shoes, I had a glove, and I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put under my -- or on my -- cheeks," he said. "And the reason I used a very little bit is because, I don't know if anybody's ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off."

He added: "I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that."

Northam told reporters that while he took responsibility for the photo shown in the yearbook, he saw it for the first time when he saw it yesterday. He said he did not purchase the yearbook and was not aware of the photo in question.

Asked about whether he had ever worn a KKK uniform as was seen in the photo, he answered, "I am not the person in that uniform, and I am not the person to the right."

Northam's press conference represents a significant backtrack from what the governor said just a day earlier when he apologized for the photo and said that he was in it.

Northam's decision to stay in office bucks a cacophony of calls from national and Virginia Democrats, including the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia House and Senate Democrats and the Democratic Party of Virginia, all of whom called on the governor to step down.

Del. LaMont Bagby, a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus told CNN Saturday that during their meeting with Northam Friday night, that the governor could not recall when the racist photo was taken that appeared in his medical school yearbook.

Northam was also asked to leave by former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe -- who was governor when Northam was lieutenant governor. McAuliffe and Northam had a "long talk" before the former governor's Friday statement went out, according to a source with knowledge of the call, and McAuliffe informed Northam that he was going to publicly ask for his ouster.

McAuliffe and Northam have not talked on Saturday, a source told CNN.

In his statement Friday, Northam said the "decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now."

"This behavior 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," he said.

Friday's apology was far from enough for Virginia Democrats and a host of protestors who gathered outside Northam's executive mansion on a chilly Saturday morning to demand his ouster.

Chanting for him to resign, the protestors excoriated Northam for the photo.

"We are here today because the history of Jim Crow is still alive and living in the Governor Mansion," said community activist Art Burton, who also touched upon Richmond's racist roots as the capitol of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Burton and others said bluntly that Northam's apology was far from enough.

Northam, a former pediatric neurosurgeon and Army doctor, won the governorship in 2017.

The CNN Wire contributed to this report. 

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