Maryland House of Delegates Censures Mary Ann Lisanti for Using 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, saying 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,” Kathleen Dumais, the Democratic majority leader, 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.”

The measure passed 136 to 0, according to the Legislature’s website. 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. But speaking to reporters outside the chamber after the vote, she said she would not step down.

“To those who have called for my resignation, I say quitting is easy, but not the road to redemption,” Ms. Lisanti said, according to The Associated Press. “Quitting this body would, in fact, be an easy way out.”

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 and said it had strengthened calls for her resignation from the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus.

Michael E. Busch, the Democratic speaker of the state’s House of Delegates, said in a statement on Tuesday that Ms. Lisanti had been stripped of her position as chairwoman of the Unemployment Insurance Subcommittee. After the censure vote, he said he also removed her from the House Economic Matters Committee.

“As speaker, I will not allow this House to be torn apart by hurtful and divisive slurs,” he said in a statement Thursday night. “I demand that every member treat each other with the respect and dignity that they deserve — and treat the citizens of Maryland that way.”

Ms. Lisanti apologized earlier this week, saying that she was ashamed, would not repeat the word and had agreed to step down from her leadership position and participate in sensitivity training.

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When The Post initially questioned her 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.

Ms. Lisanti met with the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland on Monday to explain herself, but Mr. Barnes said members of the group “did not feel that her apology was remorseful.”

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.

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

About a third of the voters in Ms. Lisanti’s district in south Harford County are African-Americans, said Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the Maryland state Democratic chair.
They deserve to be represented by someone who is “respectful and appreciative of diverse people,” Dr. Cummings said. 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. The county executives of both counties have criticized Ms. Lisanti.

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

On Thursday, Pam Northam, the wife of Gov. Ralph S. Northam of Virginia, apologized for giving cotton to a group of black students who visited the governor’s mansion last week.

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