After publicly condemning Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s decades-old racist yearbook photo in February 2019 as “racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age,” Terry McAuliffe, who is now running to succeed Northam, struck a different tone just a few months later, dismissing the photo as a youthful mistake – and even denying it was Northam in the photo at all.
“Listen, even if it had been him in the blackface. You know,” shrugged the former Democratic Virginia governor. “It was a dumb mistake 40 years ago.”
“I grew up in New York. And in all fairness folks, I didn’t know what blackface was. You know, I had not experienced, we had no racism issues, honestly, growing up in Syracuse,” he said at an event promoting his book in July 2019.
CNN’s KFile reviewed McAuliffe’s remarks, which were made in an interview with the Hudson Union Society, a members-only social group in New York City, which hosts celebrities and well-known figures. A clip of the interview was uploaded to YouTube last January.
The interview came just months after McAuliffe, along with other Democratic politicians, called on Northam to resign after it was revealed Northam appeared in a racist yearbook photo from his medical school, showing one person dressed in blackface and another in the KKK’s signature white hood.
Northam initially apologized for the photo, though he declined to confirm which costume he donned and declined to resign. He then later recanted his apology, insisting that neither man was him. A school investigation was not able to determine whether it was Northam
Northam endorsed McAuliffe in the Democratic primary this past spring and previously served as McAuliffe’s lieutenant governor from 2014 to 2018.
In a statement, McAuliffe campaign spokesperson Christina Freundlich told CNN, “Terry has always been clear that what happened in that photo was wrong.
Northam and McAuliffe campaigned together on Thursday as Northam voted early in the gubernatorial race. The race between McAuliffe and Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin is closer than either side anticipated. A recent Monmouth University poll shows a deadlock between the two candidates with each candidate having 46% support among registered voters.
“It doesn’t matter how Terry McAuliffe feels,” he added. “That photo that was in that yearbook was so offensive to the African-American community, that I can’t be in their shoes. And we have just got to get past this. I knew, at a young age, blackface, 1985, you just didn’t do it.”
In July 2019, McAuliffe would tell the audience there for his book appearance that it wasn’t Northam in the photo of his yearbook.
“He didn’t do Ku Klux Klan in fairness,” McAuliffe said. “It’s now out he wasn’t either one of them.”
While Northam rejected calls to resign, he publicly pledged to learn from his racial blind spots and to combat racial inequality. Working with Black political leaders in the state, he was able to tighten gun laws, restore voting rights to nearly 70,000 felons, approve voting rights legislation and abolish the death penalty in the commonwealth.