Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said in his first televised interview since becoming engulfed in a blackface scandal that he won’t resign and thinks he can help heal his state.
“Well, it has been a difficult week,” Northam told CBS News’ Gayle King in a clip of an interview set to air Monday on “CBS This Morning.”
“I’m a leader. I’ve been in some very difficult situations — life-and-death situations taking care of sick children,” he added in the clip, which aired on “Face the Nation” Sunday, referencing his career in medicine.
Earlier this month, it was revealed Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page contains a photo of a person wearing blackface and another wearing Ku Klux Klan robes. Northam at first apologized for the racist image, but said a day later that he was not in it and didn’t know why it was on his page. He then admitted, however, to once wearing blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume at a dance contest in 1984, the same year the yearbook was published.
Prominent national and state Democrats called for Northam’s resignation, but he has refused. Soon after, the next two highest-ranking Virginia officials — both Democrats — became entangled in their own scandals.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, the first in line to replace Northam, has been accused by two women of sexual assaults that took place at least 15 years ago.
One of the women, Meredith Watson, claims she was raped by Fairfax while they were students at Duke University in 2000, and the other woman, Virginia Tyson, has accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex in 2004 while they were both at the Democratic Convention in Boston.
Fairfax, who has called for an FBI investigation into the allegations, has emphatically denied both women’s allegations and is facing calls from Democrats to resign. One state legislator promised to bring forth articles of impeachment should the 39-year-old Fairfax not resign before Monday.
On Wednesday, state Attorney General Mark Herring — the second in line to succeed Northam behind Fairfax — admitted to once wearing blackface when he was 19. He profusely apologized in a lengthy statement and has not faced the same level of calls for resignation. After Herring, third-in-line to succeed Northam would be Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican.
Northam told CBS News on Sunday, “Right now, Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor. Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere. I have learned from this. I have a lot more to learn. But we’re in a unique opportunity now.”
Northam, who had remained quiet after his press conference, has studied up on racial history and plans to make racial justice a cornerstone of his governorship in the remainder of his term.
He told CBS News that he has thought about resigning, “but I’ve also thought about what Virginia needs right now.”
“And I really think that I’m in a position where, where I can take Virginia to the next level, and it, it will be very positive, and, you know, we have a number of inequities in this country right now and in Virginia, and we’re in a position to really stop talking so much and now to take action with policy to address a lot of these inequities.”
On Fairfax, Northam said it must have taken “tremendous courage for women to step forward” and said there should be an investigation to get to the truth. He did not call on Fairfax to resign, nor did he call on Herring to step down.
“Well I know Attorney General Herring well, as I do Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, and you know we have all grown,” Northam said. “I don’t know what the attorney general was thinking, what his perception was of race, of — of the use of blackface back then. But I can tell you that I am sure, just like me, he has grown. He has served Virginia well, and he and I and Justin, all three of us have fought for equality.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Northam called slaves “indentured servants,” prompting King to correct him.
“And, you know, if you look at Virginia’s history, we are now at the 400 year anniversary, just 90 miles from here in 1619, the first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores in Old Point Comfort what we call now Fort Monroe,” Northam said, to which King responded, “Also known as slavery.”
“Yes,” Northam said. “And while we have made a lot of progress in Virginia, slavery has ended, schools have been desegregated, we have ended the Jim Crow laws, easier access to voting. It is abundantly clear that we still have a lot of work to do, and I really think this week raised a level of awareness in the commonwealth and in this country that we haven’t seen certainly in my lifetime.”
This article originally appeared on nbc