The governor of the US state Virginia is refusing to resign, despite a national uproar over a racist photo that appeared in his 1984 medical school yearbook.
Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is being urged to quit by leading figures on his own side of politics. But he was defiant at a press conference today.
“I am not the person in that photo that caused this stir,” he said.
“Last night I finally had a chance to sit down and look at the photo in detail. It is not me.”
The photo in question shows two young men, one of whom is dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, and the other in blackface.
Mr Northam’s denial today was a very abrupt backflip from his fulsome apology yesterday, when he appeared to accept he was pictured in the photo.
“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” he said at the time.
“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.”
Today, Mr Northam said he had never seen the photo before his staff showed it to him.
“I did not purchase the yearbook and I was unaware of what was on my page,” he said.
The governor is now claiming there was a mix-up that led someone else’s photo to appear on his yearbook page.
However former students of the medical school have told the Washington Post each pupil was responsible for submitting their own yearbook pictures.
On top of that, while denying he had worn blackface in the yearbook photo, Mr Northam admitted he did once “darken my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume” for a dance contest.
The bizarre press conference did little to appease angry Democrats who have called for their own governor’s resignation.
“It was totally unacceptable that he did not resign, and he made it worse. He said I didn’t do blackface here, I did blackface there,” an incredulous Reverend Al Sharpton told MSNBC.
David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s political strategist, mocked Mr Northam’s backflip.
“You saw the statement. You read it yesterday. It was a very, very thorough acknowledgment, admission. And to come back today and say, you know, actually, that wasn’t me. I mean who can believe that?” Mr Axelrod said, calling the governor a “dead man walking”.
The governor’s fellow politicians were equally blunt.
“We amplify our call for the governor to resign,” the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said.
“He has irrevocably lost the faith and trust of the people he was elected to serve. Changing his public story today now casts further doubt on his ability to regain that trust.”
The Virginia House Democratic Caucus echoed that demand, saying Mr Northam had “lost the trust” of his constituents.
Others who have demanded his resignation include Virginia’s two Democrat senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, along with 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker.
Republican President Donald Trump also weighed in.
Walt Broadnax, one of two black students who graduated from Eastern Virginia Medical School with Mr Northam, defended his former classmate and said he was not racist, adding that the school would not have tolerated someone going to a party in blackface.
But there are few others willing to defend him.
The governor’s term ends in 2022, and he has pledged to continue until then.
The scars from centuries of racial oppression are still raw in a state that was once home to the capital of the Confederacy.
Virginians continue to struggle with the state’s legacy of slavery. Heated debates about Confederate statues in public places are ongoing after a deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. And a state holiday honouring Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson is a perennial source of discontent.
Mr Northam spent years actively courting the black community in the lead-up to his 2017 gubernatorial run, building relationships that helped him win both the primary and the general elections.
He’s a member of a predominantly black church on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where he grew up.
He has recently come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.
Last week, Florida’s secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.
— with AP