Virginians deserve the truth


5/31/2019, 6 a.m.
We didn’t expect much from the investigation into Gov. Ralph S. Northam’s racist medical school yearbook page, and that’s exactly ...

We didn’t expect much from the investigation into Gov. Ralph S. Northam’s racist medical school yearbook page, and that’s exactly what we got — not much.

Results of the nearly four-month, $300,000 investigation that Richmond-based McGuireWoods law firm conducted at the behest and expense of Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk were publicly released last week marked “inconclusive.” 

The team of high-priced lawyers and paralegals interviewed more than 30 people, a handful of whom were in Gov. Northam’s 1984 medical school class and worked on the yearbook in question. But, according to the report, the investigators couldn’t determine if Gov. Northam was either person in the racist photo that shows someone in blackface and another decked out in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

“No one we interviewed told us the governor was in the photograph, and no one could positively state who was in” it, the investigators wrote.

We are not surprised.

Gov. Northam continues to deny that he is pictured in the offensive photo, although on Feb. 1, he released a public statement and a video apologizing for being one of the two people pictured. Then the very next day in a disjointed and disturbing press conference at the Executive Mansion, he recanted, claiming he wasn’t either one of the people in the racist photo. Strangely, he confessed that he’d dressed in blackface as Michael Jackson for a dance contest later in 1984.

“I know and understand the events of early February and my response to them have caused hurt for many Virginians and for that, I am sorry,” Gov. Northam said in a statement on May 22 after the report’s release. “I felt it was important to take accountability for the photo’s presence on my page, but rather than providing clarity, I instead deepened pain and confusion.”

The 55-page report, which includes summaries of the investigators’ two interviews with the governor and his chief of staff, offers a view of a weak and waffling leader who blames his staff for drafting his initial apology. But then he admits to reading and approving the statement before its release and making the video apology.

In our view, Gov. Northam has lost credibility with Virginia’s voters. This latest episode simply continues the insult. 

Gov. Northam is no less culpable today than when the photo first came to public light on Feb.1. We still believe the governor should resign.

James Boyd, president of the Portsmouth Branch NAACP, was correct when he said last week there was “zero trust” in the outcome of the investigation. Mr. Boyd rightly questioned whether the investigation was “independent” as EVMS President Richard V. Homan claimed. 

The investigating law firm, McGuireWoods, is solidly a part of Virginia’s good ol’ boy political network, with the firm having donated more than $1.4 million to GOP and Democratic candidates and various political action committees since 2015, according to the Virginia Public Access Project’s records. That includes nearly $75,000 to Gov. Northam’s gubernatorial campaign, his inaugural committee and his PAC, The Way Ahead, since 2017. 

The firm’s well-connected senior partner and former chairman, Richard Cullen, a former Virginia attorney general, led the inquiry. Mr. Cullen, a longtime Republican, reportedly represents or represented Vice President Mike Pence in relation to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.  

So just how independent an investigation could the public expect?

As many people have pointed out, EVMS is a publicly supported medical school receiving millions of dollars annually approved by the Virginia General Assembly and the governor. Why would EVMS officials threaten the institution’s financial lifeline with a hardcore investigation that could tank the tenure and career of the governor, one of its very own graduates?

Until Gov. Northam or someone else has the moral courage to claim they were the scoundrel in blackface or the idiot in KKK garb, Virginians may never know the truth. But we deserve the truth. 

Until then, we will remain vigilant as this clueless governor, and others, remain in or come to power.