Black caucus repeats call for Northam to resign

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — UPDATE (7:15 p.m.):
Black Virginia lawmakers have reiterated their call for Gov. Ralph Northam to resign, but stopped short of calling for Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax or Attorney General Mark Herring to step down.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement Thursday night saying that a sexual assault allegation against Fairfax must be "thoroughly investigated."

The lawmakers say they stand by their earlier call for Northam to resign over a racist photo in his medical school yearbook that featured someone in blackface and another person in Klan robes.

Days after the Northam scandal broke, Herring admitted that he had worn blackface in college. The caucus says it appreciates the attorney general's honesty but is waiting for him to act further to "reassure" the state that he is fit to lead.
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4:50 p.m.

Several top Democratic female lawmakers in Virginia are declining to comment on an allegation of sexual assault that a woman has made against the state's lieutenant governor.
House Minority Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn said Thursday that she was too busy to discuss which of the two conflicting versions of events she believes. She says there will be "more time to listen" after the legislative session.

The woman who made the allegation says Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in 2004 in Massachusetts. Fairfax denies assaulting her. He says they had a consensual encounter.

Sen. Barbara Favola said "it's still a he-said, she-said," and suggested an investigation should be done in Massachusetts.

Del. Vivian Watts says she's not in a position to say whether the allegations are true, but believes there should be a legal review.
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3 p.m.

A top Virginia Republican served as an editor for a college yearbook that includes racial slurs and at least one image of a person in blackface.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment was managing editor of the 1968 yearbook for the Virginia Military Institute.

The yearbook includes a photo of a man in blackface standing with others in costumes and uses racial slurs to describe a student from Bangkok, Thailand.

The contents of the yearbook were first reported Thursday by The Virginian Pilot.

In a statement, Norment condemned the use of blackface. He said he was one of seven people who worked on the yearbook and "cannot endorse or associate" himself with everything in it.

Norment says he isn't featured in nor did he take any of the photos in question.

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Virginia's Democrats struggled to find their way out of three interlocking political crises Thursday that could bring down the party's top elected officials and put a Republican in the governor's chair.

With Gov. Ralph Northam's career in peril over a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook, the state attorney general acknowledged on Wednesday that he put on blackface when he was in college, and a woman publicly accused the lieutenant governor of sexually assaulting her 15 years ago.

While nearly the entire Democratic establishment rose up against Northam over the past week to demand he resign, party members largely withheld judgment on the two latest developments, which threaten to cause a political chain reaction that could make a GOP legislative leader the governor.

President Donald Trump accused the Democrats of a double standard, tweeting: "If the three failing pols were Republicans, far stronger action would be taken."

Some clarity on the way forward could come from Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus, which was preparing a statement on the crisis. The caucus has been calling for Northam's resignation but was silent about Attorney General Mark Herring and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who would become Virginia's second black governor if Northam stepped down.

The caucus chairman, Del. Lamont Bagby, said the group needs time to sort out the series of revelations. Many Democrats are likely to follow the group's cues.

Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University, had initially predicted Northam would be unable to hang on to office for more than a week. Now, with all three top Democrats in trouble, the equation has changed, he said.

He said it is possible all three could survive just out of political necessity because conservative Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox would be next in line for governor if they all resigned.

The Democrats' "moral clarity" last week has given way to the realization they could "lose power completely at the executive level," Kidd said. He likened the situation to three sinking boats "that suddenly lash themselves together and find they can float."

Several top Democratic female lawmakers in Virginia declined to comment Thursday on an allegation of sexual assault that California college professor Vanessa Tyson made against Fairfax. Tyson said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex at a hotel in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax has denied the allegations, casting them as a political smear.

State Sen. Barbara Favola said "it's still a he-said, she-said" and suggested an investigation should be done in Massachusetts.

In Washington, Virginia's Democratic Senator Tim Kaine said he, too, would prefer to know more before reaching a conclusion. He said that the accuser offered "a very compelling and detailed statement of a serious, serious charge," while Fairfax has given "a very unequivocal denial."

Asked whether Northam should stay in office, Kaine replied: "No. We've reached a conclusion and we've made a recommendation."

Meanwhile, the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a fiery speech at historically black Virginia Union University that Northam and Herring must step down over their blackface admissions, and the allegations against Fairfax should be investigated thoroughly.

The civil rights leader said he came to Richmond to deliver a message to the governor: "I'm not going to be your minstrel!"

Members of the crowd of 300 students, faculty, clergy and political leaders shouted in agreement and jumped to their feet several times during Sharpton's speech.

The governor is under fire over the discovery of a photo on his yearbook profile page of someone in blackface standing next to a person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Northam initially said he was in the photo, then denied it, but acknowledged putting shoe polish on his face for a dance contest in Texas in 1984, when he was in the Army.

On Wednesday, Herring, who had been urging Northam to step down, admitted wearing blackface to look like a rapper during a party when he was a 19-year-old at the University of Virginia in 1980. He apologized for his "callous" behavior.

Up to now, the Democrats nationally have taken an aggressive stand against misconduct in their ranks, in part so that they can criticize Trump's behavior without being accused of hypocrisy.

Democrats in Virginia have expressed fear the crises could jeopardize their chances of taking control of the GOP-dominated legislature this year after big gains in 2017.

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Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer, Elana Schor, Denise Lavoie and Matthew Barakat contributed to this report.