Exit interview: Nearing the end of his term, Gov. Ralph Northam sits down with 10 On Your Side

Southeast Region

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — When he was elected governor, Ralph Northam said “Virginians have told us to end divisiveness. That we will not condone hatred and bigotry.” 

We asked him four years later: has he lived up to that? He thinks he has, but there’s no doubt he’s been a governor put to the test.

10 On Your Side was with Northam when he was elected on Nov. 7, 2017, 

“What I have tried to do at the end of the day is keep people at the table. We have had so many gatherings over at the governor’s mansion with bipartisan groups,” Northam said. 

His administration nearly came to an end when a picture surfaced on his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page. It was a man in blackface standing next to a person in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood

“I went in front of the camera, and the following morning I tried to clarify, and it was confusing.” 

It was confusing because the night before he first apologized, he said he was in the picture without saying which one he was. But the next day, he said upon further reflection, it was not him

How did that happen? Northam explained.

“When things started happening, they happened fast that night, and I am always one to take responsibility. That picture was on my page in the yearbook. I apologized for it. I went back to the house probably about 9 p.m., and people started calling me and saying, ‘Ralph that is not you in that picture,’ and we need to take a step back. And that’s when we decided to do the investigation,” he said.

Crisis management had failed him.

“I always tell people now when they ask about crisis management… to step back and take your time and figure out what’s going on before you make statements like that,” he said.

However, what came from that disastrous incident was a change in direction for the Northam administration.

“First of all, that was a difficult time for Virginia, and I regret that. I woke up the next day, and I came in, and I told people we can do better. I went on a listening tour. Virginians stuck with me. I learned a lot, and a lot of what I was able to learn, I put into action to make Virginia, I think, one of the most welcoming and most inclusive states in our country,” he said.

Northam started addressing inequities, 

“We started on criminal justice reform, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, ending the death penalty, raising the felony larceny threshold,” he recounted.

His tenure was forged in responding to the greatest medical threat: COVID-19.

“We need to fight this pandemic by rolling up your sleeves and be part of the solution and take a shot,” he said. 

We asked the Democratic governor whether Republicans taking over the House of Delegates and the governor’s mansion reflect on his tenure as governor.

“No, and I think hindsight is 20-20, and I wish the Democratic candidate had talked more about what we have been able to accomplish,” he said.

Republicans won on eliminating the grocery tax, and Northam just announced he is eliminating the grocery tax.

“In 2017, I ran on eliminating the grocery tax, and we haven’t been able to do it because we haven’t had the revenue,” he said.

Northam says his successor is inheriting a fiscally sound Virginia which is rated, again, the best state for doing business by CNBC.

“Our economy is on fire, over 100,000 new jobs, a surplus of $2.6 billion, which is the largest has ever occurred,” Northam said.

He says his greatest accomplishment is “getting Amazon.” 

“I worked hard on that project, and it has totally transformed Northern Virginia bringing in thousands of good-paying jobs,” he said.

We asked Northam how he would like to be remembered.

“That my life has been about helping people. That is why I get up in the morning. Whether it is serving the Army, observing as medical director of a hospice group, or taking care of children or sick families, and now serving 8.5 million Virginians,” he said. 

On Saturday, Jan. 15, Gov.-Elect Glenn Youngkin will be sworn in. 

Northam will then return home to the 757. 

He will take off Sunday, and then on Monday resume his practice as a pediatric neurologist. 

“After four years, who would want to be my first patient?” he joked.

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