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Harford leaders ask if Lisanti can still effectively represent them after censure; others offer support

Maryland Del. Mary Ann Lisanti talks to reporters after the House of Delegates voted to censure her on Thursday, Feb. 28, in Annapolis, for allegedly making a racial slur about a majority-black county.
Maryland Del. Mary Ann Lisanti talks to reporters after the House of Delegates voted to censure her on Thursday, Feb. 28, in Annapolis, for allegedly making a racial slur about a majority-black county. (Brian Witte / AP)

Key leaders in Havre de Grace want to make sure if Del. Mary Ann Lisanti doesn’t resign after allegedly using a racial slur, they will still have effective leadership in the House of Delegates.

And while many across Harford and the state have called for Lisanti’s resignation in light of her use of the “n-word” at an after-hours gathering in January, others who know her said they won’t turn their backs on their friend.

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Lisanti was absent Tuesday from the Maryland House of Delegates, the third workday in a row she missed since the House censured her. She is no longer a member of any committees, part of her punishment for using the racial slur to refer to part of Prince George’s County during the gathering at a cigar bar in Annapolis

Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin and Council President Dave Glenn, who both called the situation “unfortunate,” said they want their delegate to be able to represent them, and question if that’s possible now that she’s been censured.

“We need delegates to work for us,” Martin said after the Havre de Grace City Council meeting Monday. If Lisanti can’t represent her district, then they need someone who can, he said.

As a delegate, Lisanti’s responsibilities include attending floor sessions and voting on bills. Her annual salary is $55,330. Lisanti remains the sponsor of 16 bills, including one major piece of legislation: the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Tandra Ridgley of Aberdeen said she has known Lisanti for 30 years and while she has problems with how the situation was handled, she is supporting her and helping her navigate her next steps.

“You just can’t throw Mary Ann away, I just can’t,” Ridgley, who is African-American, said of the delegate who is in the first year of her second term. “What she is alleged to have said, I can’t align that with who she is.”

Calls to resign

Lisanti has apologized first to members of the Legislative Black Caucus and the House Democratic Caucus, has been stripped of her leadership responsibilities, was censured last week by the House of Delegates and ordered to undergo sensitivity training.

She has been called on locally to resign by Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican; Harford NAACP President Zilpha Smith and the Harford County Democratic Central Committee and regionally by Gov. Larry Hogan and the Prince George’s County executive.

So far, Lisanti has refused and instead said she will stay and accept responsibility, roll up her sleeves and attack “political and racial divisiveness that is tearing at the fiber of our nation and state” — the hard work, she said.

“I am up for the challenge,” Lisanti wrote in her statement.

During a special meeting on Saturday, the Harford County Democratic Central Committee members voted to adopt Chairwoman Denise Perry’s statement from earlier in the week which recommended that Lisanti resign.

“We have an expectation that the people we elect respect us, care about our issues and are working in our best interests,” Perry, who lives in Lisanti’s District 34A, said during the Thursday meeting of the central committee. “This conduct questions whether she can fully represent her constituents without bias.”

At that meeting, Aaron Givens, events chair for The Young Democrats of Harford and Cecil County, read a statement on behalf of the organization calling for Lisanti to “immediately step down and resign from the elected position.”

“The appalling and disgraceful words that Del. Lisanti used in recent days are hateful, unapologetic and we as Young Democrats, who are members of the community and the state, will absolutely not stand for hate, disregard for others or racial slurs of any kind,” Givens stated. “We must stand together to respect everyone regardless of color, race, sex, gender, nationality, creed, disability status and/or sexual identity.”

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Givens attended the Thursday meeting with Kevin Miksis and Joshua Cooper, the organization’s respective president and vice president. All three worked to develop the statement, with support from Young Democrats at the state level, according to Miksis.

‘That’s just not who she is’

Democratic Central Committee member Barbara Osborn Kreamer read a three-page statement in support of Lisanti.

Kreamer, a former Harford County Council member and state delegate, said she has known Lisanti since she was in high school and described the legislator as “the brightest star in the Harford County Democratic constellation.”

Kreamer cited Lisanti’s ability to build coalitions in Annapolis and get bills passed while bringing state bond funds back to Harford County. She noted Lisanti had been endorsed by media organizations, including The Baltimore Sun.

“People liked her, trusted her, contributed to her campaign and turned out to vote for her,” Kreamer stated. “Candidates sought to affiliate with her, and legislative leadership spoke well of her, backing her candidacy with staff and financing. She was the top vote-getter for re-election for District 34A. But now, I am really disappointed in her.”

Ridgley is president of the Grassroots Steering Foundation, an organization started by her mother Myrtle, who died last year. The foundation’s mission is to advocate for people in communities of color, she said.

Ridgley’s older siblings have known Lisanti even longer than Ridgley has and she said it’s hard to believe Lisanti ever said the racial slurs she is alleged to have used.

“That totally misrepresents who I know her to be. Mary Ann is not the type of person to throw around racial slurs,” Ridgley said. “She doesn’t talk slick or shady, that’s not how she talks, that’s not her way. She’s very straightforward, very honest and she’s compassionate.”

A lot of people in the African-American community, including those born and raised in Havre de Grace who have known Lisanti for years, told Ridgley privately they don’t believe what others have claimed Lisanti said.

“That’s just not who she is,” Ridgley said.

Lisanti has had a target on her back for a while, she said. Ridgley noted the Republican party spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in attack ads during the last election and Lisanti did not get the support of her own party during the campaign.

The community activist said Lisanti is a relatively young, independent-thinking rising star in the Democratic party in Maryland.

“And I believe a lot of people don’t like that,” Ridgley said. “And it’s not unlikely someone would do something to thwart her continual rise in politics and public service.”

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Ridgley has been going to Annapolis for 20 years and has been privy to a number of conversations and in meetings where racial slurs were thrown around, she said.

“At one of our first meetings we went to, I heard a slur and threw my hand over my mouth because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Ridgley said. “I always thought when people got to those levels of professionalism, that type of language was not acceptable. That was just being naive, I guess.”

Even if Lisanti did use the racial slur, Ridgley said she would continue to support her.

“I believe she’s the type of person that would learn from an experience like this,” she said. “I believe she is worthy of a second chance.”

Ridgley is being an ear for Lisanti when she needs it and is helping round up Lisanti’s supporters to generate a public showing.

“Not everyone here is crucifying her; she’s done a lot for the community at-large in Harford County and we can’t forget that,” Ridgley said. “I feel as if we have to stand by her. I’m not the type of person to throw people away.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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