Virginia AG Mark Herring says he wants to repair harm from blackface

Published: Mar. 4, 2019 at 3:52 PM EST
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Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring made his first public appearance on Sunday since he

to wearing blackface at a college party in 1980s.

Herring was a guest at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Leesburg for an interfaith event addressing race relations and racial injustices, NBC Washington reports.

“I am so very sorry that something I did a long time ago when I was 19 has added to and contributed to pain and to the disappointment,” he said.

He says he’s grown from his mistakes.

“I know it was wrong and I know why it was wrong,” he said. “Was a dehumanization people of color and minimization of oppressive history.”

His public appearance comes after he wrote an Op-Ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch saying the blackface incident “said showed a deep lack of awareness and understanding.”

“My use of blackface was a dumb, cruel, and racist action that dehumanized people of color, and minimized a horrific history of exploitation and oppression,” he wrote. “I am deeply sorry for the pain it has caused, especially to members of the African-American community who have placed their trust in me.”

He continued his apology tour on Monday as he spoke on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU in Washington, repeatedly apologizing for dressing up like a rapper with a wig and brown makeup.

"It was a one-time occurrence, and it is something that has haunted me for decades, and I'm so very sorry for the hurt that I've caused," Herring said.

Herring is one of Virginia's top three Democrats, all of whom have been embroiled in scandal recently. Like Herring, Northam has

decades ago. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, meanwhile, has vehemently denied


Many of the Democrats who called for Northam's resignation have been more forgiving of Herring, who would be replaced by a Republican if he stepped down. Northam would be replaced by Fairfax.

Herring defended his decision to call for the governor's resignation, saying he only did so when it became clear that Northam had lost the public's trust. The governor initially apologized for being in a racist picture that surfaced in his 1984 medical school yearbook. A day later, Northam said he wasn't in the picture but had dressed in blackface during a dance competition the same year.

"For me, it was really about the public trust and I want to be clear about this: I would hold myself to the same standard," Herring said.

Critics have assailed both Northam and Fairfax for how they've handled their respective scandals. Northam's been ridiculed for an awkward performance at a news conference while Fairfax has been criticized for comparing himself to Jim Crow-era lynching victims.

Herring, though, kept an extremely low profile and all but disappeared after issuing his initial statement.

Republicans on Monday said Herring's re-emergence rang hollow.

"Mark Herring thought appearing in blackface was worth resignation when it was Ralph Northam. Now he's tying himself in knots trying to explain why his blackface scandal is different," said Garren Shipley, Virginia communications director for the Republican National Committee.

Herring also detailed the timing of his decision to come forward, which occurred after rumors about the existence of a blackface photo of him began circulating at the Capitol. Herring said Monday that he did not know if a photo existed but said he was prompted to come forward in order to "maintain my credibility."

The attorney general did not directly respond to questions about whether he still thinks Northam should resign. The governor has resisted widespread calls to step down, instead saying he wants to focus on racial reconciliation during his remaining three years in office. Herring has said that is what he wants to do as well.

Before the blackface scandals erupted, Herring had said he planned to run for governor in 2021. He said Monday that those plans are not on his mind at the moment.

"Obviously, I am not thinking about that at all. What I am focused on is what has happened in Virginia over the last month and what I might be able to do to repair the damage," Herring said.