Justin Fairfax Puts Virginia Democrats in Bind on Impeachment


But some black Democrats are unhappy about the prospect of him remaining in office, after he acknowledged he wore shoe polish to go in blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a dance contest in 1984.

Yet Ms. Bass, the Congressional Black Caucus leader, and other Democrats offered some measure of praise for Mr. Herring, who revealed that he wore blackface to imitate a rapper as a University of Virginia undergraduate but has pleaded for forgiveness from the state’s black lawmakers.

“At least he came forward and seemed to be sincere and apologized,” Ms. Bass said.

Other national Democrats also praised Mr. Herring, who methodically reached out to nearly every prominent African-American lawmaker in Virginia, and said it was time the party reconsider its demands for instant accountability for the transgressors in its ranks.

“It’s unrealistic to expect politicians to have lived perfect lives — the general public doesn’t expect that, and they are much more forgiving than the Twitter outrage mob,” said Elisabeth Smith, a Democratic strategist, singling out Mr. Herring. “If anything, we’ve learned the importance of taking a step back and taking a deep breath before demanding these guys’ heads on a plate.”

But there is far less sympathy among black lawmakers in the Capitol for the governor, who has flip-flopped about whether he was in a racist photo that appeared on his medical school yearbook page.

“Northam called me Friday night and took ownership of that photo and said, ‘I’m sorry, that’s me in the photo,’” recalled Ms. Herring, who is not related to the attorney general. “Then, Saturday, moonwalks it back, and then adds some more pain with the description about how he needs to only put a light coat of shoe polish on because it’s hard to get off. He doesn’t get it.”

For Ms. Herring and other legislators, the controversies over blackface were painful reminders of the state’s not-so-distant past and its lingering prejudices. Ms. Herring said she had often thought about a particular red glow from her childhood: what she saw when a cross burned outside her Georgia home when she was 9.

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