Why Governor Northam Should Not Resign


Governor Ralph Northam’s past misdeeds should not disqualify him from continuing to serve as governor of Virginia. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Nicholas Zaromatidis

Gov. Ralph Northam is the current governor of Virginia and, despite the current news, has an impressive track record. Prior to taking office in 2018, Northam served in the Virginia State Senate and as the Lieutenant Governor.

He has been working in the political sphere for over a decade and has been socially progressive for the state of Virginia. However, pictures of Northam have been released that depict him in black face, and he is seen standing next to a person dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member.

Initially, Northam denied the allegations, claiming that the image did not depict himself; however, these changed quickly as people researched more in depth. Northam was wise and accepted the accusation in an attempt to begin damage control. In part, this demonstrates an ethical dilemma facing the Democratic Party.

It is tasked with either following the party or sticking up for a colleague. Unfortunately, Northam’s Democratic colleagues have unanimously called for his resignation. From Northam’s position, a resignation is synonymous with an admission of guilt, which could demolish his political reputation.

However, it is important to contemplate if the images reflect Governor Northam presently. Should we risk an individual losing his job based on a picture taken over 35 years ago? By holding Governor Northam responsible and condemning him for this image, as a society, we are making a broader statement that humans cannot grow. Now, I am not suggesting that acts of racism should go without consequences, but this is not worth destroying a man’s livelihood.

In 1984, racism was much more overtly embedded in the fabric of our nation. Everybody learns about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which allowed African Americans to vote. What we focus less on is the troubled discourse that followed throughout the 1970s to 1990s over racial tensions in the U.S. Given that Gov. Northam committed the action at a time when what was considered politically correct differed greatly from today, his 1984 actions should not be held to 2019’s standards. Blackface was not acceptable in 1984 but it was not as condemned as it is now, as evidenced by it getting into a medical school yearbook.

Northam’s PR statement offers this defense: “[t]his behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.”

I have to agree with Northam that this image is wildly outdated, stemming from a period in American history that many believe we have to forget. However, I challenge Americans to remember this time period.

We cannot condemn Northam for his actions in a time of lesser understanding of today’s rubric of social responsibility. What holds greater weight is Northam’s present actions in respect how he views his past transgressions.

We must look at the wider implications of accusing Governor Northam for taking this image. By accusing him, we aim accusations of racism, sexism and homophobia at individuals in a time when these notions as we understand them today were not present among the populations, a time when most individuals were unaware of the importance of diverse populations and mutual inclusivity. Northam and the entire population of the United States has grown since that time in America.

Northam has dedicated large sums of money from state funds that were divested in the form of grants to create more job opportunities in counties where African Americans of low to mid socioeconomic status make up the majority of the population. In addition, Northam has been a strong advocate for diversity in Virginia with respect to job hiring practices.

We must not let a 35 year old mistake ruin the reputation of a man who has done much good for society. I understand that even good people can make mistakes, but shouldn’t we leave them as mistakes rather than the demise of one’s entire reputation?

For those who still believe that Northam should be held responsible and accountable for this image, I understand the frustration with him and the thought process, but I would like you to reflect on every photo you have taken, and whether you would be comfortable showing them to your future children, let alone the entire country.


Nicholas Zaromatidis, GSB ’21, is an applied accounting and finance major from Franklin Square, New York.