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Deepening Virginia political crisis threatens Democrats’ hold on governorship

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Virginia’s political crisis showed no immediate sign of let-up on Thursday as Governor Ralph Northam and two fellow high-ranking Democrats faced the prospect of a Republican abruptly ascending to the pinnacle of state government in Richmond.

The upheaval deepened on Wednesday when the attorney general admitted to wearing blackface at a college party, and a woman came forward to level an accusation of sexual assault against the lieutenant governor, who has denied the allegation.

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Northam, 59, a former U.S. Army physician who took office a year ago, was already fighting for his political life after a racist photo from his medical school yearbook page was made public last Friday, disclosed by the conservative media website Big League Politics.

The following day, he admitted to having worn blackface – a practice dating to 19th-century minstrel shows caricaturing slaves – in 1984 to impersonate pop star Michael Jackson.

He has remained in virtual seclusion since then, facing mounting calls for his resignation from fellow Democrats in Virginia, likely to be a key swing state in the 2020 presidential race.

One of those calling for Northam’s ouster, state Attorney General Mark Herring, 57, found himself embroiled in a similar scandal on Wednesday, admitting in a statement he once donned brown face paint at a party in 1980 to impersonate a rapper.

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Herring, who has expressed gubernatorial ambitions of his own, apologized for “a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity.”

Meanwhile, pressure on Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, 39, intensified as his accuser released a statement alleging that he had forced himself on her sexually in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

The allegation first surfaced obliquely Sunday on the Political Big Leagues website, which two days earlier published the photo from Northam’s yearbook of a man in blackface standing beside a masked individual dressed in the hooded robe of the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.

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Fairfax on Wednesday again denied wrongdoing, insisting his encounter with the woman was consensual, adding, “I wish her no harm or humiliation.”

Fairfax, who is black, and Herring, who like Northam is white, are first and second in line, respectively, to succeed Northam as governor should he resign.

Controversies simultaneously engulfing all three men have raised the improbable scenario of the Democrats suddenly losing the governorship to a Republican without an election. Kirk Cox, 61, the Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, is third in the state’s constitutional line of succession.

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Despite Democrats’ professed commitment to rooting out bigotry and intolerance, Northam’s party might be motivated to rally behind him to avoid the prospect of Republicans suddenly assuming the governorship.

Cox, a former high school teacher who has served in the state’s Republican-controlled House since 1990, has said he was not convinced the yearbook scandal met the threshold for an impeachable transgression.

But he issued a statement on Wednesday calling the matrix of controversies a “disturbing” circumstance that “will be resolved in due course.” Meanwhile, he said, lawmakers would focus on budget deliberations and “hundreds of bills” they face before the legislative session ends Feb. 23.

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The Virginia Republican Party renewed its call for Northam to step down while also saying Herring should quit.

Legislators otherwise kept a low profile, ducking reporters as they left the state capitol in Richmond following Wednesday’s legislative session.

Reporting by Gary Robertson in Richmond, Va.; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Robert Birsel


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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UK travel giant Thomas Cook set to collapse: report

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Thomas Cook's 178-year existence was reported to be coming to an end on Monday after the British travel firm struggled to find private investment to keep it afloat, potentially affecting thousands of holidaymakers.

The operator has said it needs £200 million ($250 million) or else it will face administration, which could affect 600,000 holidaymakers and require Britain's largest peacetime repatriation.

A source close to the negotiations told AFP that the company had failed to find the cash from private investors and would collapse unless the government intervened.

But ministers are unlikely to step in due to worries about the pioneering operator's longer-term viability, the Times reported, leaving it on the brink.

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‘We are the people’: Watch Billy Porter get a standing ovation for his passionate speech at the Emmys

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In a powerful and passionate speech accepting his Emmy, "Pose" actor Billy Porter showered the audience with love and proudly reminded all of their right to belong and be loved.

"Oh, my God. God bless you all! The category is love, y'all, love!" Porter exclaimed.

The epic FX show "Pose" depicts Black and Latinos in the LGBTQ ballroom culture of New York City in the 1980s in the first season and the early 1990s in the second season.

"I am so overwhelmed and so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day," he said. "James Baldwin wrote, 'It took many years of vomiting up the filth I was taught about myself and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.' I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right."

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Paris show of King Tutankhamun artifacts set new record with 1.42 million visitors

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A blockbuster Tutankhamun show set a new all-time French record Sunday, with 1.42 million visitors flocking to see the exhibition in Paris, the organisers said.

The turnout beat the previous record set by another Tutankhamun show billed as the "exhibition of the century" in 1967, when 1.24 million queued to see "Tutankhamun and His Times" at the Petit Palais.

"Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" -- which has been described as a "once in a generation" show -- will open in London in November.

The last time a show of comparable size about the boy king opened there in 1972 it sparked "Tutmania", with 1.6 million people thronging the British Museum.

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