Gov. Ralph Northam is fighting to hold on to power here in Virginia, and a senior adviser to the Democrat tells CNN the governor is emotional over the controversy but cognizant that the situation is changing rapidly.
Richmond has been in chaos over the last 72 hours, after Northam initially admitted he was in a racist photo that appeared on his page in his medical school’s 1984 yearbook but later changed his story and told reporters he did not believe he was in the photo. Further complicating matters, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was hit by sexual assault allegations that he vehemently denies.
The governor and his team are also aware that the situation around the Capitol in Richmond is fluid, a not-so-subtle hint at the allegations that consumed Fairfax on Monday.
“The situation changes hour by hour and he is taking stock of everything,” said the Northam adviser.
The adviser described the time as “emotionally painful” for the governor as he tries to determine whether he is able to rehabilitate his image while the controversy over a racist photo on the governor’s yearbook page, showing one person in blackface and another dressed in the Ku Klux Klan’s signature white hood and robes, continues to play out.
Northam, the adviser said, is well aware that, should he resign, he would be the first governor of Virginia to do so and believes that a decision of this magnitude “merits time.”
The governor spent Monday behind closed doors, begging his Cabinet members to give him the chance to prove he was not the person pictured in the racist photo that surfaced Friday.
Northam oversaw a regularly scheduled Cabinet meeting Monday morning that a source inside the meeting described as “solemn.” Not one member of the Cabinet offered a resignation, nor did any threaten to resign, the source said, a win for the governor.
Northam said at a later all-staff meeting that he needs more time to decide his path forward, a Virginia Democrat briefed by multiple officials who were in the meeting told CNN. The Democrat said the meeting was intense, with both Northam and his chief of staff described as “emotional.”
The governor then spent the afternoon talking to community leaders and friends. The adviser said the calls are all part of a “commitment to opening a conversation about healing.”
Northam is getting considerable support from friends and family, the adviser concluded, including from his wife, Pam, who is “supportive of staying and continuing to serve.”
As the governor spent the day away from the public eye, Fairfax regularly spoke with reporters, an attempt to get ahead of the allegations against him.
Fairfax said reports that he had committed sexual assault are false and he instead described an encounter that was “100% consensual.” He said he had met the woman at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston and said, “We hit it off. She was very interested in me.”
“She was very much into the consensual encounter,” Fairfax said. “Everything was consensual.”
As the story trickled out, however, Virginia Democrats privately and publicly speculated that Northam’s team could be behind the story.
Although Fairfax later denied hinting that Northam was behind it, he said during his first conversation with reporters that he felt it was no coincidence the story came out as he may become the state’s chief executive.
“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this uncorroborated smear comes out?” he asked reporters.
When asked directly later on whether he thought Northam was behind it, Fairfax said, “I have no indication of that.” When a reporter said he had suggested that earlier, Fairfax shot back, “I did not suggest that.”
Ofirah Yheskel, spokeswoman for Northam, denies that the governor or his office had anything to do with the allegations against Fairfax.
“We had nothing to do with that,” she said emphatically.