Maryland House of Delegates Censures Lawmaker for Use of Racist Slur


The Maryland House of Delegates voted on Thursday to censure a white Democratic state delegate who admitted to using a racist slur during an after-hours gathering with her colleagues.

The delegate, Mary Ann Lisanti, who represents southern Harford County, near Baltimore, apologized on Tuesday in a statement for using “an insensitive and hurtful word” several weeks ago, but declined to say what that word was.

According to The Washington Post, Ms. Lisanti 51, told another white lawmaker that when he had been campaigning for a candidate in Prince George’s County in the fall, he had been door-knocking in a “nigger district.”

A growing number of lawmakers have called on Ms. Lisanti to resign. On Thursday evening, the House of Delegates approved a measure censuring her. It said her behavior had “brought dishonor to the entire General Assembly of Maryland.”

“The public expects and deserves legislators who hold themselves and each other to the highest standards,” Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais, a Democrat, said from the House floor. “With this vote we are saying as a body that racial slurs and racially charged language will not and cannot be tolerated by this House.”

Ms. Lisanti, whose Facebook pages and Twitter account were deactivated by the time of the censure vote, did not respond to emails seeking comment on Thursday evening.

Ms. Lisanti’s racist comment was described to The Post by Delegate Jay Walker, the lawmaker who represents the district in question in Prince George’s. The county is about 63 percent African-American, according to the latest census data. Mr. Walker did not respond to requests for comment this week.

The gathering took place in late January at a cigar bar in Annapolis, the state capital. Several legislators who were there told Darryl Barnes, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, that Ms. Lisanti had used the slur, he said in an interview on Wednesday. The 57-member caucus is calling for her resignation, he added.

Ms. Lisanti’s language was “totally offensive,” Mr. Barnes said, adding that it is “just not doable” for her to remain in office. Mr. Barnes praised the censure vote on Thursday and said it had strengthened calls for Ms. Lisanti’s resignation from the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus.

Legislative leaders have already stripped her of a committee title. She has promised to undergo sensitivity training. But an increasing number of officials in both parties say that is not enough.

The chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, the Maryland Republican Party, the American Civil Liberties Union’s state chapter, United States Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, and Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, have all called on Ms. Lisanti, a second-term delegate whose seat is up in 2022, to resign as well.

Ms. Lisanti met with the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland on Monday to explain herself. “We did not feel that her apology was remorseful,” Mr. Barnes said, adding that at times she seemed “somewhat arrogant.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Michael E. Busch, the Democratic speaker of the state’s House of Delegates, said he had told Ms. Lisanti she would no longer be the chairwoman of the Unemployment Insurance Subcommittee, adding that “leaders in the House need to be able to bring people together — not tear them apart.”

Ms. Lisanti apologized, saying she was ashamed, would not repeat the word she used and had agreed to step down from her leadership position and participate in sensitivity training. She is part of the Economic Matters Committee and previously served on the Harford County Council.

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When The Post initially questioned Ms. Lisanti about the episode, she said she did not recall using the slur. But she also said she was “sure” she had used it in the past. “I’m sure everyone has used it,” she told The Post in an article published Monday. “I’ve used the F-word. I used the Lord’s name in vain.”

In her statement on Tuesday, Ms. Lisanti said that she was “sickened that word came out of my mouth.”

“It is not in my vocabulary, and it does not represent my belief system, my life’s work or what’s in my heart,” she said. She did not respond to requests for an interview this week.

On Wednesday, Mr. Van Hollen called for Ms. Lisanti to resign.

“For too long, racial slurs have been used to oppress people of color,” he wrote on Twitter. “Public servants that use this type of bigoted language should be held accountable. Words have consequences. Delegate Lisanti must do the right thing and resign.”

Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat, stopped short of calling for resignation, but said in a statement that Ms. Lisanti “needs to be held accountable for her words” and “must consider carefully if she can still be an effective advocate for her constituents.”

The chairwoman of the state’s Democratic Party, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, said in a statement on Wednesday that although Ms. Lisanti had apologized, “further insight provided by some of her African-American constituents about the kind of political positions and actions that she has taken that are consistent with the sentiment reflected in her poor choice of words underscores that an apology and promise to undergo diversity training are not enough.”

About a third of the voters in Ms. Lisanti’s district in south Harford County are African-Americans, Dr. Cummings said, and they deserve to be represented by someone who is “respectful and appreciative of diverse people.” Census data shows Harford County is predominantly white.

“For this reason, I support calls for Lisanti to resign her position,” Dr. Cummings said.

Prince George’s County, which wraps around the eastern side of Washington, has several affluent African-American neighborhoods: Its median household income, $78,607, is similar to that of Maryland’s.

With more than 900,000 residents, Prince George’s is far more populous than Harford County, which has a population of around 252,000. Both areas are highly educated: Most of the residents have graduated from high school and more than 30 percent in each county have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The county executive for Prince George’s, Angela D. Alsobrooks, called Ms. Lisanti “unenlightened and ignorant” in a news conference Wednesday, and said that she should resign.

“Her opinions don’t mean anything,” Ms. Alsobrooks said. “We know who we are in Prince George’s.”

Harford’s county executive, Barry Glassman, a Republican, also echoed the widespread calls for Ms. Lisanti’s resignation Wednesday, saying in a tweet that he was “deeply disappointed” in her.

The backlash in Maryland has followed a series of revelations that politicians in Virginia, including the governor and the attorney general, had appeared in blackface in the past.

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