Thirty members of the House of Delegates called on Gov. Larry Hogan's top housing official to resign Monday over remarks he made last week suggesting that mothers might poison their children with lead to obtain housing benefits.
The lawmakers, all Democrats, sent a letter to Housing and Community Development Secretary Kenneth C. Holt calling his remarks "incredibly offensive and insensitive to the plight of mothers of children with lead poisoning."
The letter tells Holt that his remarks were "particularly insensitive to African-Americans, who have been disproportionately harmed by the devastating effects of lead paint poisoning."
Holt took part in a panel discussion Friday at the summer convention of the Maryland Association of Counties during which he called for easing the regulatory exposure of landlords in cases where the children of tenants are exposed to lead. He said that the current law could motivate a mother to put a fishing weight in a child's mouth to elevate the level of lead in the child's bloodstream and qualify for free housing at the landlord's expense until the child turned 18.
The comments were repudiated by the Governor's Office and by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who said Saturday that Holt had been "off the reservation" in making his "odd" remarks. Rutherford said the administration would not propose any lessening of the liability of landlords.
Shortly afterward, Holt released a statement in which he said he "deeply regrets" his remarks and apologized to anyone he offended. He said his statements did not reflect administration policy.
Nevertheless, Del. Andrew Platt of Montgomery County rounded up the signatures of about one-third of the members of the Democratic caucus in the 141-member House to call for Holt's resignation. Platt said he did not seek signatures from Republican delegates.
The letter pointed out that Maryland law does not require a landlord to provide an exposed child with free housing until the age of 18, but only tells the landlord to provide safe housing while lead abatement work is under way in the original home.
"Your remarks betray a shocking and complete lack of understanding of Maryland law as it relates to a landlord’s responsibility to provide rental property free of lead," said the letter. Its signatories include eight delegates from Baltimore city.
The Governor's Office and a spokeswoman for Holt were sent copies of the letter but had no immediate comment.