By ALAN SUDERMAN
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – He promised to start an honest conversation about race and how to heal the persistent wounds of Virginia's painful past. Then he disappeared.
For the past week, Governor Ralph Northam has challenged his resignation requests for his resignation after a racist picture of a yearbook and a botched response has overturned his career. The 19-year-old Democrat hired a crisis communications company, used underground tunnels at the Capitol to stay away and did not unveil any strategy on how to govern effectively over the next three years.
His best hope for short-term survival could be the eruption of two other controversies that have struck the two men in line to succeed him, both Democrats. The party might be reluctant to drive the three out of fear of delivering the governor's office to the Republican legislative leader who is next in line.
But Northam's long-term plans are still a mystery. Uncertainty led opponents to accumulate, left his staff without a rudder and pushed his supporters to push him to act quickly.
"I'm not aware of any plans, but I suspect it will rise and drive," said Republican Senator Richard Stuart, a close friend who talks to the governor every day. When asked, Stuart said, "Soon, I hope."
Northam has been pressured by almost the entire democratic establishment to resign after discovering a photo on his profile page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School directory of someone in blackface standing next to a person in a hood and a Ku Klux Klan tunic.
The governor initially said that he was in the picture without saying which costume he wore. The next day, in a surreal press conference, he reversed the route and said he was convinced he was not in the picture. But he said he once wore a black face and performed like Michael Jackson in a dance competition in 1984.
At the same press conference last Saturday, he said he owed the people of Virginia start a discussion of race and discrimination and listen to the pain he had caused. "I think this moment may be the first small step to open a discussion about these difficult problems," he said.
In the following days, the administration of Northam tried to get back to normal while some of its best collaborators and consultants wondered if such a thing will ever be possible.
The governor has quietly signed a bill that approves a huge package of incentives for Amazon to build a headquarters in Virginia. Under normal circumstances, such a result of legacy construction would be celebrated with a large statutory signature on the Capitol steps or in some other landmark.
His budget staff continue to negotiate a high-risk tax review with the Republican leaders of the General Assembly – less, of course, the normal leverage the governor would have had.
"It does not have the same political capital it has had," said finance secretary Aubrey Layne.
At an anti-abortion rally, opponents gloated over Northam's problems. The picture of the yearbook became public after a riot on the governor's defense to ease restrictions on short-term abortions.
"I am a pastor, I believe in divine punishment," said E. Jackson, the Republican who lost to Northam in the 2013 tender for the lieutenant governor.
Influential black MPs have said they have not heard of Northam since the weekend.
"I am willing to talk to anyone about honest conversations about how we go on," Del said. Lamont Bagby, president of the Legislative Black Caucus. He added, however, that his caucus had not changed his mind about demanding the resignation of Northam.
Some supporters of Northam are struggling to show that the governor still has support among members of his party.
Michael McShane, a Democratic consultant from Charlottesville, said several volunteers from the campaign of the governor of Northam called around to evaluate the Democrats' support for the governor and found that there are still many who want him to remain in office. "We believe the process is moving too quickly," said McShane.
The pressure on Northam to resign has diminished significantly since two other scandals erupted: a university professor accused Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual violence and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted he wore a black face for an all-party party. university in 1980.
Herring, who a week ago called on Northam to resign, issued a statement Wednesday, saying, "In the coming days, honest conversations and discussions will clarify whether I can or should continue to serve as the attorney general."
More than a day later, he still had to make a public appearance.
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