Virginia politics roiled by racism, sexual misconduct charges

Washington (AFP) – Virginia politics went into further turmoil Monday as the lieutenant governor of the eastern US state, where the governor is under intense pressure to resign, was accused of sexual misconduct.

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who would take over if Governor Ralph Northam steps down, strongly denied the allegation made by a woman about a sexual encounter they had in a hotel room 15 years ago.

Fairfax, 39, a Democrat who won election along with Northam in November, said it had been a “100 percent consensual encounter.”

“There was no inappropriate contact whatsoever,” Fairfax told reporters.

“Years later, now we have a totally fabricated story out of the blue that’s meant to attack me because of where I am in politics,” he said. “This has been weaponized and used as a smear.”

The allegations against Fairfax came as Northam, 59, is facing calls to step down from both Republicans and Democrats alike.

Northam has been fighting for his political survival since a 1984 yearbook surfaced last week that features a racist photo on a page dedicated to him.

The allegation of sexual misconduct against Fairfax was made on the same conservative website that published the yearbook picture.

At a press conference on Saturday, Northam denied that he was one of the men in the photo, which features two people standing together — one in blackface, the other dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.

Blackface is makeup traditionally used by non-black performers to mock African Americans and was prevalent in minstrel shows in the 19th century.

Northam described the photo as “shocking and horrific.”

While denying he was in the photo, the governor did admit that he had once applied shoe polish on his face — to imitate Michael Jackson during a 1984 dance contest.

“I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that,” Northam said.

Fairfax demurred when asked whether Northam should resign.

“I believe that the governor has to make the decisions in the best interests of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he said. “I know that there are many others who have called on him to resign.”

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