Harford County Del. Mary Ann Lisanti has resisted cries to resign from the House of Delegates for using a racial slur, but a number of her constituents are still calling for her ouster from the Maryland General Assembly.
The group of people seeking her expulsion gathered at the intersection of Revolution and Stokes streets in Havre de Grace — Lisanti’s hometown and current place of residence — Friday evening for a protest.
About 15 to 25 people showed; members of the group began to hurry away as they were battered by a brief hailstorm but headed back to the intersection as the skies cleared.
The protest was organized by the group Community Improvement Team. The organization — co-founded by Marla Posey-Moss, of Aberdeen, and Carlos Taylor, of Abingdon — works on community issues that pertain to Lisanti’s district, Subdistrict 34A.
Those issues include Lisanti’s use of the racial epithet, according to Taylor, who was the Democratic nominee last year in the race for Harford County state’s attorney — he was defeated by Republican Al Peisinger.
“We don’t know who our representative is now,” Taylor said of Lisanti, a Democrat who was re-elected to a second term as delegate in 2018. “When a person says a racial epithet, there’s an underlying philosophy behind what that person says — it’s not like stubbing your toe.”
The House voted Feb. 28 to censure Lisanti for calling a legislative district in Prince George’s County a “n---- district.” Lisanti made the remark in January in front of other legislators at an Annapolis bar. She was confronted Feb. 25 by leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus and apologized.
Leaders on both sides of the aisle immediately called for her resignation, including the black caucus, the state Democratic and Republican parties, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and some of her constituents. House Speaker Michael Busch, as part of disciplining her, stripped Lisanti of her seat on the House Economic Matters Committee.
However, House leaders have stopped short of pressing for expulsion, noting Lisanti hasn’t been accused of a crime or an ethics violation.
In Harford, members of the Harford County Democratic Central Committee, which also called for Lisanti’s resignation, have questioned whether she could effectively serve her constituents. Some African-American residents of Harford said her use of the slur cut too deep.
Taylor, who is African-American, noted Lisanti has given several explanations and apologies regarding her remarks, and at times denied using the racial slur. He said he does not think Lisanti’s apologies have been genuine.
“You can’t have three or four apologies conflicting with each other and be remorseful,” he said.
Posey-Moss noted the group at Revolution and Stokes, which held protest signs and drew honks from passing vehicles on the busy Revolution, is a small sampling of the people who want Lisanti removed.
“Expel Delegate Lisanti for using the n-word!” she called out.
Posey-Moss said, in an interview earlier Friday, that her organization wants Busch to introduce a resolution calling for Lisanti to be expelled. Many others have made phone calls, written post cards and sent Tweets.
A sit-in is planned for the morning of April 5 in the gallery of the State House, Posey-Moss said.
“There are so many people working on this effort because there is such a backlash,” she said.
People can also visit the website expelmaryannlisantinow.com.
The protest even drew people who live outside of District 34A. Perry Hall resident Ellen Montoya, an eighth-grade science teacher at Edgewood Middle School, took part with her colleague Lureen Wiggins, a Joppa resident who is a special educator.
Montoya, who noted Lisanti is the representative for her students in Annapolis, said she is “very upset” the state teachers’ union has not called for Lisanti to resign.
“When we are in leadership positions, we have to be responsible for what we say,” Wiggins added. “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Aberdeen resident Sarahia Benn, who came in third out of three candidates in the 2018 Democratic primary race for District 34A, shouted the slogan “ freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences!”
Benn made unsuccessful runs for a District 34A delegate’s seat, both in the 2018 Democratic primary and in the general election as a write-in candidate.
“It doesn’t mean [Lisanti is] an awful person, but it does mean she’s [not] appropriate to be in this position right now,” Benn said of Lisanti’s remarks during the protest.
Benn added that having Lisanti remain in office “is going to harm many of us in this area who do want to make changes to this area.”
After her censure, Lisanti was absent the next three working days of the session before returning to the house floor March 6. In a phone interview March 5, Lisanti said she needed to put “some physical distance” between herself and her colleagues after they voted to censure her.
Lisanti has repeatedly said she would not resign, adding that she had taken responsibility for her actions and remained committed to doing the work she was elected to do, and would try to earn back the trust of her colleagues and constituents.
“You know, I don’t walk away from a challenge. It would be very easy to walk away,” Lisanti said March 5. “I’m not looking backward. I’m looking forward. And I’ve got a big legislative agenda that’s in front of me. I have a lot work still to do in Annapolis and that’s where my focus is.”
Lisanti said in a written statement Tuesday that “the overwhelming majority of my constituents have expressed love and support throughout this entire ordeal.”
“My biggest critics are those who do not know me, my life’s work or what I stand for,” the delegate added. “Others are just looking to undo the result of past elections.”
Lisanti said she continues to work on behalf of her constituents in Annapolis on issues such as reducing prescription drug costs, providing choices in utility rate plans, providing greater funding for public education and school construction, as well as obtaining bond funding for Harford County projects such as $1 million to renovate the HEAT Center in Aberdeen to support the Advanced Manufacturing Materials & Processes Consortium’s research and development projects on 3-D manufacturing.
“None of this could be accomplished without partnering with others and working across the aisle as I always have,” Lisanti stated.
She said the next 10 days will be “hectic” as she and her colleagues work toward “sine die,” or the final day of the General Assembly session in early April.
“I am strengthened by the outpouring of prayers and guidance I continue to receive from so many unlikely places,” Lisanti wrote. “We truly are stronger together than those who wish to tear us apart.”