This post has been updated to include the name of Lt. Gov Fairfax’s accuser, which was not yet confirmed at original posting. – AAD
Even for a state who traces its origins of governance to clandestine and often rowdy meetings in the Apollo Room of the Raleigh Tavern, this is getting pretty chaotic:
The state Capitol hit a new level of chaos Monday as Gov. Ralph Northam (D) asked staffers to stand by as he decided his fate, while the man who would succeed him, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), denied a sexual assault allegation that appeared on a conservative website.
Northam gathered Cabinet members and staffers Monday to apologize for the pain caused by a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page and told them he was still weighing options, according to several people who attended.
The governor urged staffers not to quit and promised to decide his fate soon, but how soon was left unsaid, according to three people familiar with what transpired, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to decribe a private meeting. It could take days, according to one person familiar with his thinking.
Northam is trying to assemble evidence to prove that he was not in that racist photo and is exploring whether he has enough support in the government to continue to be effective, according to several people who have spoken with the governor. Feedback from constituents has begun to shift, becoming more positive, one person said.
Sen. Richard H. Stuart (R-King George), Northam’s closest friend in the legislature, who has been in contact with the governor throughout the crisis, said Monday night that Northam was not giving up.
“I know people are speculating that Ralph is going to resign and still considering it, but I can tell you he is not going anywhere,” he said. “He’s dug in, and he is going to fight this thing out.”
Elected officials from both parties stood by their calls that Northam must go, but the way forward became cloudier Monday with the incendiary charges against Fairfax. The lieutenant governor vehemently denied the claim that he sexually assaulted a woman in 2004, a report that was posted on the same website that revealed the photo from Northam’s yearbook Friday.
“She was very much into a consensual encounter,” Fairfax said about the 2004 incident. “Everything was 100 percent consensual. And now, years later, we have a totally fabricated story out of the blue to attack me once I was in politics.”
Fairfax, 39, called it an attempt to damage him.
“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of my potentially being elevated, this uncorroborated smear comes up?” he said. “You don’t have to be cynical, you don’t have to understand politics, to understand when someone’s trying to manipulate a process to harm someone’s character without any basis whatsoever.”
He would not say whether he believes that Northam should step down.
And as for Lt. Gov Fairfax’s alleged accuser:
An NPR morning story says Vanessa Tyson — the woman accusing current Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention — has hired the D.C. firm of Katz, Marshall, and Banks. It’s the same firm from whom lawyers counseled Christine Blasio Ford on her allegations against now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was a nominee. A source with the firm tells NPR they are advising Tyson on “the next steps”.
What a mess. When the initial Northam scandal broke, many observers – not to mention political operatives with vested interest – saw the path forward to be pretty simple: Northam steps aside, rising star Fairfax takes his place, and on with resurgence the Democratic Party has been enjoying in the Commonwealth over the last few cycles. The very astute noticed that a resignation would also kill the blowback from the Governor’s viral comments on controversial and now-killed legislation on late term abortions. Full disclosure: I had my own “Northam Resigns” post all set to go when I went about my business Saturday morning, anticipating like many others that he would.
And then you had Northam’s bizarre press conference, during which he denied being in the photos, admitted to “darkening his face” while dressing as Michael Jackson on another occasion, rambled for an inordinate amount of time, and at one point had to be gently restrained by his wife over a question on moonwalking.
Since then Northam has doggedly refused to step aside despite calls from virtually every Democrat of note both in and out of Virginia. Now you have not-so-subtle insinuations passing between the Governor and Lt. Governor’s camps. Katz and company, last noted to be at the side of Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanaugh hearings, are not retained to make quiet settlements. The longer this affair goes, the worse it looks to get, and as of Tuesday morning there is no end in sight.
Over the mantle in the Apollo Room, there was an inscription in Latin: “jollity is the offspring of wisdom and good living.” There will be little of that in the coming days in Richmond.