Former Sen. Joe Lieberman Becomes Rare Ally for Embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

February 4, 2019, 9:21 PM UTC

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam found a rare ally in former Democratic senator Joe Lieberman, who said calls for Northam’s resignation over a racist photo in his medical school yearbook is a “rush to judgment.”

“One, he says he wasn’t in that picture. Two, I think we ought to fairly ask him, ‘Did he know the picture was on his page of that yearbook?’ And then three, really, he ought to be judged on the context of his whole life,” said Lieberman, according to the Washington Post.

Northam, a Democrat, has been under fire since the conservative website Big League Politics published a photo of his personal page in his 1984 medical school yearbook last Friday. The page shows a handful of pictures of Northam, plus an image of someone wearing blackface next to another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

Northam first apologized for this “clearly racist and offensive” image, but then backtracked the following day, saying he did not appear in that photo and he would not resign—despite a slew of Democratic colleagues calling for him to do so.

While he may not have appeared in that picture, Northam later admitted to once darkening his face in an attempt to resemble Michael Jackson for a 1984 dance contest. He apologized for this—saying he regrets that he “did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that”—but maintained that he did not appear in the yearbook picture.

Regardless of the number of photos or promises of improvement, perpetuating the grossly inaccurate and dehumanizing stereotypes of blackface is difficult to move past: Former Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel was recently forced out of office in very similar circumstances after a photo of him wearing blackface in 2005 was leaked.

The New York Times reports that Northam met with a group of his African-American aides on Sunday and most said he would only clear his name through a resignation. Northam, however, continues to refuse.