Eastern Virginia Medical School’s President affirmed Wednesday the investigation into a controversial image on Gov. Ralph Northam’s yearbook page was “independent.” But, both McGuireWoods law firm, which was hired for the investigation, and administration at the school have shown support for the governor over the years, giving thousands of dollars to help him get elected.
McGuireWoods law firm couldn’t determine if Gov. Northam was either man in a racist image from a 1984 yearbook, one wearing blackface and another in a KKK robe. The firm also looked into the culture of the school to understand the process yearbooks are made. EVMS President Dr. Richard Homan stopped publishing the yearbooks in 2013.
During a press conference yesterday, Dr. Homan admitted to knowing about the photograph while Northam was running for governor. He stood by his decision not to tell Northam’s team about it, saying he would “make the same decision now.”
“I would say that I made the decision based on the fact that we are a public institution, we receive public funds,” Homan said. “I decided that we did not want to enter any opportunity to have that photo enter the press, or to provide a political process that we’re dealing with today.”
Homan said in hindsight, he would have acted differently.
“I did not remove [the yearbook] but I would have in retrospect placed them in a reserve area, that would be out of the public view, but they are public documents and it was our obligation to keep those as part of our public library,” he explained during the press conference.
Some have called into question if there was a conflict of interest in the investigation, including the president of the NAACP of Portsmouth who attended the press conference.
Over the years, administration at EVMS and McGuireWoods have made financial contributions to political groups associated with Northam. According to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), McGuireWoods made three donations of roughly $25,000 between 2017 and 2018 to Northam’s campaign, his inaugural committee as well as Northam’s political action committee (PAC) The Way Ahead.
The investigators aren’t alone. Dr. Homan donated to Northam’s election campaigns for Governor and Lt. Governor, as well as Northam’s inaugural committee.
Both Homan and McGuireWoods continue to affirm the investigation “was independent.”
“McGuireWoods had full opportunity and authority to be able to investigate whatever they wanted to,” Dr. Homan said.
Associate Political Science Professor Rich Meagher says with institutional probes like this, it was still going to be tough to find out what really happened back in 1984.
“In fairness to the people who conducted the investigation, it was always going to be difficult for them to find definitive proof. If Northam’s in the photo, you would essentially need someone to turn on him and throw him under the bus and say ‘Yeah, I saw him in that outfit or in that blackface,’ and that might implicate them as well,” Meagher explained. “If it’s not him in the photo, who is it? Well, who’s going to come forward? You can see that there would be a reluctance from anybody to confirm details one way or the other.”
According to the full report, no one came forward to either confirm or deny if Northam was in the image.
Gov. Northam issued a statement when the investigation was released, continuing to deny he’s either man in the photograph.