RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged Wednesday that he put on dark makeup and wore a wig while an undergraduate of the University of Virginia in 1980, becoming the second statewide official here in the last week to admit imitating an African-American and sending an already-stunned state capitol reeling.
Mr. Herring released a statement saying that he dressed like the rapper Kurtis Blow, an acknowledgment that deepens the crisis in the state’s Democratic Party. The Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, admitted last week that he once blackened his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume. Just two days afterward, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, the other one of Virginia’s three statewide officials, faced claims of sexual assault, which he denied.
“Because of our ignorance and glib attitudes — and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others — we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup,” Mr. Herring said in a statement.
Alluding to the image from Mr. Northam’s medical school yearbook that has engulfed the governor in turmoil, Mr. Herring added: “That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt.” He said he was “deeply, deeply sorry” but did not indicate if he would remain in office.
Virginia’s government is in a state of chaos. Mr. Northam has not been seen in public since Sunday, a day after he revealed he had once worn shoe polish to dress as Michael Jackson at a dance party but denied he was one of the men in blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes on his medical school yearbook. And Mr. Fairfax, after issuing a statement at nearly 3 a.m. Monday vehemently denying the sexual assault claims, has suggested Mr. Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney were behind the initial leak of the woman’s claims.
Every major state and national Democrat has called on Mr. Northam to resign and Virginia Democrats are nervously waiting for more details regarding the accusations against Mr. Fairfax, only issuing spare statements about how women’s claims should be taken seriously.
If all three men — Mr. Northam, Mr. Fairfax and Mr. Herring — were to resign without immediate replacements, Kirk Cox, the Republican House speaker, would become governor.
Mr. Herring first disclosed what he had done in a private meeting Wednesday morning with this state’s legislative black caucus.
Mr. Herring is second in line to become governor after Mr. Fairfax.
“In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general,’’ Mr. Herring said, “but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation.”
Black legislators walked into the Capitol Wednesday with downcast looks on their faces and avoided questions about their meeting with Mr. Herring.
Delegate Lamont Bagby said that Mr. Herring confirmed the session but would not comment about what the attorney general said. “He’ll talk about it,” said Mr. Bagby.
Mr. Bagby declined to answer further questions and another delegate, Eileen Filler-Corn, the Democratic House leader, pulled him away from a reporter and into a private room.
“I’m not going to talk about what happened at the meeting this morning,” said a clearly shaken Jay Jones, a delegate who was hustled away from a reporter by an aide.
Just minutes before Mr. Herring issued his statement, Mr. Fairfax, who has been accused by a California professor of sexually assaulting her at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston, issued his own statement, at around the same time NBC reported that he used profane language about the woman at a Senate Democratic caucus meeting.
“This has been an emotional couple of days for me and my family,” Mr. Fairfax said, emphasizing “how important it is for us to listen to woman when they come forward with allegations of sexual assault.”
The scene in the Capitol was surreal Wednesday morning as dozens of Catholic priests here to lobby against abortion and women in support of the Equal Rights Amendment walked hallways that were buzzing with rumor about the latest extraordinary news since Mr. Northam’s yearbook picture surfaced on Friday.