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Gov. Ralph Northam pledges to ‘lead Virginia forward’ in email to state workers

RICHMOND, Va. -- Embattled Gov. Ralph Northam apologized to state workers and pledged to lead Virginia forward in an email Friday one week after addressing a racist photo that surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook.

"It has been a painful week for all Virginians, and I am deeply sorry for causing this distraction from your important work. Our Commonwealth is in uncharted waters, and many of you are undoubtedly left confused and uncertain about what the future holds.

I want to assure you that the business of the Commonwealth and our duty as public servants will continue. You are doing that work well and I know that will not change. You have placed your trust in me to lead Virginia forward—and I plan to do that.

Pam and I are grateful for the hard work of every employee in this Commonwealth. You have been in our hearts and thoughts, and we are reminded each day that there is no better place to live and work.

Thank you, Governor Northam"

The email comes after the top three Democrats in Virginia’s state government are currently contending with various controversies, including Northam and state Attorney General Mark Herring admitting to having worn blackface in the 1980s. Additionally, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is facing two sexual assault allegations, which he denies and has prompted the lawmaker to call for a "full investigation." The trio of controversies has thrown Virginia politics into chaos, as state Democrats look for the best way to move past the swirling issues.

In an extraordinary news conference at the governor's mansion last Saturday, the governor denied he was in a photo on his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page showing one person in blackface and another in a KKK robe and hood. However, Northam did admit he had once dressed in blackface during a dance contest in San Antonio.

Northam met Wednesday with two prominent black leaders,  Dr. Charles Steele Jr., the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Dr. Bernard LaFayette, chairman of the SCLC board, in an effort to better understand how he can move past the scandal that has engulfed his office.

Northam invited the two leaders to a private meeting in the governor's mansion and they accepted.

Steele would not comment on the content of the meeting, but he did say he was happy he accepted the invitation from the governor.

"I accepted it because there were other people involved who thought I should come," he said. "I am very motivated. I feel that by my coming there was a positive situation."

Steele said they saw the meeting as a way to foster "harmonious working relationships" with people and partner with people prepared to help fight racism and poverty.

Asked if he sees Northam as a partner in that fight against racism, Steele said, "I don't know but I am happy to be here."

The meeting marks the latest example of Northam trying to go on with his job as governor and move past the controversy.

"I am ready for an honest conversation about racial injustice ... and real equality," Northam said during the news conference.

The meeting between Northam and the two leaders took place after Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring admitted Wednesday that he dressed in blackface during a 1980 party where he and friends dressed like rappers and performed a song.

"In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song," Herring said in a statement. "It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes -- and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others -- we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup."

COMPLETE COVERAGE: State Capitol Controversy.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: State Capitol Controversy.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for complete coverage of the State Capitol Controversy.

CNN Wire contributed to this report.

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