Richmond, Feb 2 (AP/UNB) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam appears to have almost no choice but to resign after losing support from virtually the entire state Democratic party and other key allies, who urged the governor to leave office because of a racist photo in which he appeared more than 30 years ago.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the state House Democratic Caucus and the state Senate Democratic Caucus all called on Northam to resign late Friday, along with several key progressive groups that have been some of the governor's closest political allies.
Their calls for Northam to step down came in a wave late Friday, after the Democrat had apologized for appearing in a photo in which one person is dressed in blackface and another is wearing a full Ku Klux Klan uniform. The photo appeared in his 1984 medical school yearbook.
The yearbook images were first published Friday afternoon by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. The Virginian-Pilot later obtained a copy from Eastern Virginia Medical School, which Northam attended. The photo shows two people looking at the camera — one in blackface wearing a hat, bow tie and plaid pants; the other in a full Ku Klux Klan robe.
An Associated Press reporter saw the yearbook page and confirmed its authenticity at the medical school.
In his first apology, issued in a written statement, Northam called the costume he wore "clearly racist and offensive," but he didn't say which one he had worn.
He later issued a video statement saying he was "deeply sorry" but still committed to serving the "remainder of my term."
"I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust," Northam said.
But Northam appears to have virtually no path forward to remain in office without any institutional support. His departure would mean current Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who is only the second African American to win statewide office in Virginia, would be the next governor. Northam's term was set to end in 2022.
Black lawmakers said they met with Northam Friday evening, and said in a statement they appreciate his service.
"But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as governor," the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said, "It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing."
State Sen. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, a close ally of Northam and longtime African-American lawmaker, described a hastily called conference call with black leaders around the state as "intense," her voice breaking, but did not elaborate.
Several Democratic presidential hopefuls and potential presidential candidates, including former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also called on Northam to resign.
Northam spent years actively courting the black community in the lead up to his 2017 gubernatorial run, building relationships that helped him win both the primary and the general election. He's a member of a predominantly black church on Virginia's Eastern Shore, where he grew up.
"It's a matter of relationships and trust. That's not something that you build overnight," Northam told the AP during a 2017 campaign stop while describing his relationship with the black community.
Northam, a folksy pediatric neurologist who is personal friends with many GOP lawmakers, has recently come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.
Last week, Florida's secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.
Washington, Feb 01 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said Thursday he will likely announce the site and date of a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the State of the Union address on Tuesday.
"They very much want the meeting," Trump told reporters, saying his administration has made "tremendous progress" toward reining in the North's nuclear ambitions. The summit is expected to take place around the end of February.
The president said that before he took office in January 2017, "it looked like we were going to war with North Korea. Now, there's no missile testing. There's no rocket testing, there's no nuclear testing. We got back our prisoners, our hostages. We're getting back our remains."
Trump has long contended that his outreach to Kim and their initial summit in June in Singapore have put the U.S. and North Korea on the path to peace. But his list of concrete achievements has not grown in the months since that meeting, and his own intelligence chiefs believe there is little likelihood Kim will voluntarily give up his nuclear weapons or missiles capable of carrying them.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress on Tuesday that the government's intelligence assessment does not support the idea that Kim will eliminate his nuclear weapons or the capacity for building more.
A skeptical Trump tweeted in response: "Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!"
Private analysts, in several reports in the past four months, have drawn on commercial satellite imagery to determine that the North is continuing to develop its nuclear and missile technology despite the test suspension.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led the diplomatic effort with North Korea, is sending a team to Asia to make preparations for the second Trump-Kim summit. He has not identified a venue for the meeting. Vietnam has been considered, along with Thailand, Hawaii and Singapore.
Pompeo's point man on North Korea, Stephen Biegun, planned to travel to South Korea this weekend. He also was expected to see North Korean officials "to discuss next steps to advance our objective of the final fully verified denuclearization of North Korea," according to the State Department.
In a speech Thursday at Stanford University, Biegun said the administration was ready to move "simultaneously and in parallel" with the North in reaching the goal. Biegun also credited the North Korean leader with agreeing to dismantle two military installations and open them to outside inspections
"While these sites are not critical parts of current North Korean missile or nuclear programs, after an interlude of 10 years in which no international inspections of any kind have occurred, they represent a step in the right direction for our two countries to renew cooperation on the steps necessary to give confidence to the process of denuclearization," he said.
Still, Biegun said there must be a "dismantlement and destruction of North Korea's plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities."
Biegun stressed that denuclearization could not happen without the North first presenting a detailed accounting of its nuclear and missile facilities so that dismantling them under an eventual deal can be verified.
North Korea also must agree to have disarmament experts inspect its facilities to confirm they are no longer usable, he said.
Such a declaration and access for inspectors has been a sticking point in the past. The North has balked at submitting an accounting of its sites and demanded that the U.S. ease sanctions before it makes any concessions.
The U.S. has said repeatedly that sanctions will stay in place until denuclearization is complete, although it has held open the option of taking other confidence-building measures, including potential security guarantees.
Buffalo, Feb 01 (AP) — A winter storm that delivered heavy snow and biting cold was blamed Thursday for at least three deaths and possibly a fourth, that of a homeless man whose frozen body was found in a suburban Buffalo bus shelter.
Two men died clearing snow, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, and a 59-year-old man was killed when his vehicle hit a snowdrift and then slammed into a pole in Livingston County, south of Rochester, state police said.
The victims' names weren't immediately released.
An autopsy was planned to determine whether the homeless man found in the village of Williamsville froze to death or died of another cause.
Lake-effect snow continued to fall in areas of western New York Thursday, blown by winds of more than 30 miles per hour. The combination produced a second day of treacherous driving conditions and subzero wind chills. More than 20 inches of snow was recorded at the Buffalo airport since Tuesday evening.
Trucks and commercial buses remained banned from the western section of the Thruway and Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to crack down on violators a day after a tractor-trailer crash near Rochester caused a major pileup that left a trooper with serious injuries.
Truckers who ignore traffic bans during severe weather and cause a crash which results in injury could be charged with reckless endangerment and assault as well as be ticketed, Cuomo said during a Thursday news conference at a state transportation facility outside Buffalo.
Bans also were in place for other Buffalo-area intestates and expressways, although restrictions on traveling local streets were lifted for the city and most Erie County towns.
Cuomo said a tractor-trailer whose driver ignored the ban jackknifed west of Rochester on Wednesday afternoon, causing a 19-vehicle pileup that injured several people, including a state trooper. Buffalo and Rochester media outlets reported several instances of truckers ignoring the ban and traveling on highways and roads despite whiteout conditions.
"That tractor-trailer ban is serious. We're not asking tractor-trailers and buses to stay off the road. That is a legal ban," Cuomo said. "If you violate the law in this situation you could be endangering human life."
State police said the truck that caused the pileup was traveling east on I-90 when it jackknifed between Rochester and Buffalo and struck the rear of the patrol vehicle of Trooper Dominique Wilson, who had pulled over to assist stranded motorists. Her vehicle was then sideswiped by a second truck, troopers said.
Wilson was treated at a Rochester hospital for numerous injuries but is expected to recover, officials said. Two other people were treated and released, police said.
The two truckers were issued several tickets, including failing to heed the roadside traffic control devices that alerted commercial truck and bus drivers that a travel ban was in effect, troopers said.
After the news conference, Cuomo headed out in an emergency services truck to get a look at local road conditions. His entourage came upon two trucks police had stopped from getting on another route closed to truck traffic. Cuomo jumped on the running board of one of the trucks and told the driver to pull over because the roads were dangerous.
"They were a little surprised to see me, to tell you the truth," said Cuomo, adding that both truckers would be ticketed by state police.
The arctic conditions caused problems from Buffalo to Brooklyn, where about 200 firefighters battling an early morning blaze in a commercial building took turns getting warm on buses amid the frigid conditions.
On Manhattan's Upper West Side, a water main break shut down a section of Broadway as water gushed from manhole covers and formed icy patches at an intersection. Crews shut off the water and spread road salt on the street as utility workers repaired the break.
In New Jersey, firefighters contended with single-digit temperatures as they fought a blaze in a parking garage at Newark Liberty International Airport. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said the fire started on the rooftop of the garage at Terminal C and damaged more than a dozen vehicles. No injuries were reported.
Philadelphia, Feb 01 (AP/UNB) — The main sprinkler valve had been turned off before a 2017 five-alarm fire at a Pennsylvania senior nursing and rehabilitation center that left four residents dead and injured two dozen people, federal investigators said Thursday.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released the final investigative report into the cause of the huge blaze at Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Philadelphia.
The fire likely started near a patio under an overhang at the multi-building facility, investigators said, but they could not determine the exact origin or cause because of the extensive damage. Local officials requested the federal agency's investigative help because of the fire's size and the scope of the damage.
The main valve to the internal sprinklers had been switched off in the building where the fire started, investigators said. It couldn't be determined when the valve was turned off or by whom, ATF officials said, but they did not believe the fire was set intentionally.
The ATF does not anticipate any criminal charges or any continued investigation specifically into the sprinkler valve, said Charlene Hennessy, a spokeswoman for the bureau in Philadelphia. Investigators conducted more than 300 interviews, she said.
The report did not speculate whether the lack of internal sprinklers played a role in how long it took to put out the Nov. 16, 2017, fire. The heat was so intense that one of the more than 400 firefighters battling the blaze discovered his helmet was melting.
Investigators doubted the internal sprinklers would have helped much because of where the fire started, Hennessy said.
The Barclay facility's executive director posted a letter to residents on its website Thursday.
"We are deeply distressed to have it affirmed, according to the ATF's investigation, that the main valve to the Woolman Building's sprinkler-system was believed to be closed," wrote Linda M. Sterthous. "This information confirms our worst fears, and we have taken steps to make sure this can never have again."
The flames were fanned by wind that pushed the flames up vinyl siding and onto rooftops, the report said. The report noted the facility did not have external sprinklers, which would have helped, but said they are not required under building codes. The victims' families were given access to the report's findings in advance, ATF officials said.
The lack of water, problems with sprinkler design and issues with not ensuring flame-retardant materials were used on the outside of the buildings were mentioned in lawsuits filed against the nursing home by the estates of the four residents killed.
The family of a married couple who died, Thomas Parker, 92, and Delores Parker, 89, sued the home in June, saying the couple, who both had dementia, were left to die "terrifying, gruesome, agonizing and lonely deaths."
Almost 150 residents and staff were evacuated, some in wheelchairs or rolled out on their beds into near-freezing temperatures. Dozens of neighbors also helped, wrapping residents in blankets and ferrying them to ambulances on makeshift gurneys.
The four elderly residents were unaccounted for after the evacuation and were later found dead inside the buildings. The county coroner later said they died of smoke inhalation.
Chicago, Jan 31 (AP/UNB) — The painfully cold weather system that put much of the Midwest into a historic deep freeze was expected to ease Thursday, though temperatures could still tumble to record lows in some places before the region begins to thaw out.
Disruptions caused by the cold will persist, too, including power outages and canceled flights and trains. Crews in Detroit will need days to repair water mains that burst Wednesday, and other pipes can still burst in persistent subzero temperatures.
Before the worst of the cold begins to lift, the National Weather Service said Chicago could hit lows early Thursday that break the city's record of minus 27 (minus 32 Celsius) set on Jan. 20, 1985. Some nearby isolated areas could see temperatures as low as minus 40 (minus 40 Celsius). That would break the Illinois record of minus 36 (minus 38 Celsius), set in Congerville on Jan. 5, 1999.
As temperatures bounce back into the single digits Thursday and into the comparative balmy 20s by Friday, more people were expected to return to work in the nation's third-largest city, which resembled a ghost town after most offices told employees to stay home.
The blast of polar air that enveloped much of the Midwest on Wednesday closed schools and businesses and strained infrastructure with some of the lowest temperatures in a generation. The deep freeze snapped rail lines, canceled hundreds of flights and strained utilities.
Chicago dropped to a low of around minus 23 (minus 30 Celsius), slightly above the city's lowest-ever reading of minus 27 (minus 32 Celsius) from January 1985. Milwaukee had similar conditions. Minneapolis recorded minus 27 (minus 32 Celsius). Sioux Falls, South Dakota, saw minus 25 (minus 31 Celsius).
Wind chills reportedly made it feel like minus 50 (minus 45 Celsius) or worse. Trains and buses in Chicago operated with few passengers. The hardiest commuters ventured out only after covering nearly every square inch of flesh against the extreme chill, which froze ice crystals on eyelashes and eyebrows in minutes.
The Postal Service took the rare step of suspending mail delivery in many places, and in southeastern Minnesota, even the snowplows were idled by the weather.
The bitter cold was the result of a split in the polar vortex, a mass of cold air that normally stays bottled up in the Arctic. The split allowed the air to spill much farther south than usual. In fact, Chicago was colder than the Canadian village of Alert, one of the world's most northerly inhabited places. Alert, which is 500 miles (804 kilometers) from the North Pole, reported a temperature that was a couple of degrees higher.
Officials in dozens of cities focused on protecting vulnerable people from the cold, including the homeless, seniors and those living in substandard housing.
At least eight deaths were linked to the system, including an elderly Illinois man who was found several hours after he fell trying to get into his home and a University of Iowa student found behind an academic hall several hours before dawn. Elsewhere, a man was struck by a snowplow in the Chicago area, a young couple's SUV struck another on a snowy road in northern Indiana and a Milwaukee man froze to death in a garage, authorities said.
Aside from the safety risks and the physical discomfort, the system's icy grip also took a heavy toll on infrastructure, halting transportation, knocking out electricity and interrupting water service.
Amtrak canceled scores of trains to and from Chicago, one of the nation's busiest rail hubs. Several families who intended to leave for Pennsylvania stood in ticket lines at Chicago's Union Station only to be told all trains were canceled until Friday.
"Had I known we'd be stranded here, we would have stayed in Mexico longer — where it was warmer," said Anna Ebersol, who was traveling with her two sons.
Ten diesel-train lines in the Metra commuter network kept running, unlike the electric lines, but crews had to heat vital switches with gas flames and watched for rails that were cracked or broken. When steel rails break or even crack, trains are automatically halted until they are diverted or the section of rail is repaired, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis explained.
A track in the Minneapolis light-rail system also cracked, forcing trains to share the remaining track for a few hours.
In Detroit, more than two dozen water mains froze. Customers were connected to other mains to keep water service from being interrupted, Detroit Water and Sewerage spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh said.
Most mains were installed from the early 1900s to the 1950s. They are 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters) underground and beneath the frost line, but that matters little when temperatures drop so dramatically, Peckinpaugh said.
On a typical winter day, the city has five to nine breaks, with each taking about three days to fix. But those repairs will take longer now with the large number of failures to fix, he added.
Detroit is in the second year of a $500 million program to rehab its water and sewer system. Last year, 25 miles (40 kilometers) of water mains were replaced.
"Water pipes are brittle. The more years they've gone through the freeze-thaw cycle," the greater the stress and strain, said Greg DiLoreto, a volunteer with the American Society of Civil Engineers and chair of its committee on American infrastructure.
Pipes laid a century ago have far exceeded the life span for which they were designed, said DiLoreto, who described the aging process as "living on borrowed time."
"When we put them in — back in the beginning — we never thought they would last this long," he said.
The same freeze-thaw cycle beats up concreate and asphalt roads and bridges, resulting in teeth-jarring potholes.
"You won't see them until it starts warming up and the trucks start rolling over the pavement again," said DiLoreto who is based in Portland, Oregon.