FRONT ROYAL — Scandal at the top of Virginia’s Democratic Party is reverberating down the line, sending shock waves through a local party.
The Warren County Democratic Committee met downtown on Saturday afternoon to attend to regular business as well as air feelings of frustration and discontent with the commonwealth’s top leadership.
Leaving the meeting, most party members backed away from an earlier call for Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation amid the fallout from accusations of sexual assault and disclosure of another blackface incident that have hobbled Northam’s potential successors.
Steve Foreman, the Warren County Democratic Committee chairman, opened the floor for members to speak after reading the previous statements calling for Northam’s resignation. State and national Democrats have pressured Northam to resign after photos of him, purportedly in blackface, surfaced on Feb. 1.
Foreman joined the calls for Northam to leave office earlier this week.
"It is unfortunate for a public figure to be tried in the court of public opinion,” Foreman said in a written statement. “But in this case, his credibility is badly compromised. He must resign.”
Foreman noted the local party’s statement from Wednesday had been overtaken by events, acknowledging a new allegation of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax that emerged later in the week.
“In [the statement] I put in that I think we are in the throes of judging people in the court of public opinion,” Foreman said. “ While we need to uphold our ideals and what we stand for, we need to also be pragmatic and realize the other side, our friendly opposition, doesn’t necessarily abide by the same standards we do.”
Journalists at the Virginian-Pilot reported one of Virginia’s top Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, was an editor for the Virginia Military Institute’s 1968 yearbook, which includes a number of photos of individuals wearing blackface.
No African-American party members were present at Saturday’s meeting; however, a Washington Post-Schar School poll found a majority — roughly 58 percent — of African-American Virginians still support Northam remaining in office.
Members of Warren County’s Democratic Party were especially concerned with taking a pragmatic approach to Gov. Northam’s situation Saturday afternoon.
One member questioned whether Fairfax could resign and have Northam appoint a new lieutenant governor in his stead before resigning himself. Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, has vowed to bring articles of impeachment against Fairfax if he does not resign.
The fate of Northam and Fairfax are important for Democrats as the next highest ranking Democrat, Attorney General Mark Herring, admitted to appearing in blackface earlier this week as well. Next in line to take over as governor is Kirk Cox, the Republican speaker of the house.
Patricia Failmezger, head of district operations for the committee, said she was frustrated by the hypocrisy she is seeing.
“I think if you went and investigated every delegate, every senator, every judge, every CEO, you would find this all over the place,” she said. “I don’t care why it happened. It’s what was going on then. These guys have track records from then to now.”
Failmezger said she doesn’t think anyone should be resigning. The bigger problem, she said, is the “endemic racism within the state.” While everyone is pointing fingers and trying to fight off attacks, she said, the real problems facing Virginia are falling by the wayside.
Eric Olson said there needs to be room for forgiveness. Olson said he could acknowledge that good people do bad things and that bad people are capable of changing. Despite the room for growth, Olson said he still believes Northam needs to step down, though not necessarily right away.
“I think Northam has to step down but I think we have to be realistic about everything,” Olson said. “I don’t mind this measured approach that we’re in right now as mad as I am about the blatant racism.”
“I’m still very proud to be a Democrat,” Olson continued. “The Democratic Party has the best answers for what’s best for Virginia.”
Foreman and most of his colleagues appeared to embrace a continued, measured approach to dealing with the scandals. Foreman said he is sure that Northam remains best suited to lead the party and the state.
“I think Northam’s in a great position to lead us out of this mess,” Foreman said, “and show progress and show us the right way to go.”