Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring admits to dressing in blackface as a student

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Va. governor's staff standing by him for now

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, the second in line to assume the governorship of the state, admitted on Wednesday to dressing in blackface when he as a 19-year-old college student. This statement comes amid turmoil in Virginia, after many Democrats have called on Gov. Ralph Northam to resign over the revelation of racist yearbook photos from his time in medical school, and his own confession to wearing blackface in 1984.

"I have a glaring example from my past that I have thought about with deep regret in the many years since, and certainly each time I took a step forward in public service, realizing that my goals and this memory could someday collide and cause pain for people I care about," Herring said in a statement.

"In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song," Herring said. "It sounds ridiculous even now writing it."

FILE: Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring attends a news conference near the White House, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 in Washington. Andrew Harnik / AP

Herring acknowledged that he and his friends did dress up in wigs and brown makeup for the party. He has not ruled out the possibility that he could resign over the incident.

Kurtis Blow
FILE: Hip-hop artist Kurtis Blow stands in the Harlem neighborhood where he grew up in New York, Oct. 8, 2003. JIM COOPER / AP

"That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt," he said. "In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general."

When news came out of Northam's yearbook, Herring called for the governor's resignation.

"It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down," he said on Friday.

Also on Wednesday, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax addressed sexual misconduct allegations against him again in a statement, apologizing for what he believed to be a consensual encounter with a woman who claimed he sexually assaulted her in 2004. Fairfax has consistently strongly denied the allegations, first published by a conservative website, calling the accusation a "smear" and "character assassination," on Monday.

Fairfax would assume the governorship if Northam resigned.

Unlike his vehement denials to reporters on Monday, Fairfax began the statement released Wednesday by "emphasizing how important it is for us to listen to women when they come forward with allegations of sexual assault or harassment."

"[W]hile this allegation has been both surprising and hurtful, I also recognize that no one makes charges of this kind lightly, and I take it and this situation very seriously," Fairfax said. He repeated that he had a "consensual encounter" with the woman who made the allegations against him.

"I would like to encourage the media, my supporters, and others to treat both the woman who made this allegation and my family with respect for how painful this situation can be for everyone involved. I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice. But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true," he said.

First published on February 6, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

Democratic Attorneys General Kurtis Blow

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