The board president of the New Harford Democratic Club said her organization’s will “have to find a way to work with” Harford County Del. Mary Ann Lisanti if she continues to remain in office, despite calls from multiple organizations for Lisanti to resign for using a racial slur.
“The decision to resign is up to Mary Ann Lisanti,” Bridgette Johnson told an Aegis reporter Wednesday night, following the New Harford Democratic Club’s monthly meeting at the Holiday Inn Express in Aberdeen.
“If she decides to remain in office, we would have to find a way to work with her as one of the delegates representing District 34A,” she continued.
Johnson had, during the meeting, reaffirmed the club board’s statement calling for Lisanti to resign after reports surfaced last week that the Democratic delegate described the 26th Legislative District in Prince George’s County as a “n----- district” during an after-hours gathering in January with fellow legislators at an Annapolis cigar bar.
“We did not come by this decision lightly,” Johnson said during her opening remarks Wednesday. “We talked it over as a board, we took a vote and that is what we decided as a board, and that decision will stand.”
The Board of Directors’ statement, which is on the Democratic Club’s website, indicates how the organization has supported Lisanti during her terms on the Harford County Council and in the House of Delegates. Lisanti was re-elected to a second term representing District 34A in November; she represents the district, which includes Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and most of southern Harford County along Route 40 with fellow Democrat Steve Johnson, a freshman legislator.
The statement indicates that “the confidence placed in Delegate Lisanti has now been shattered” and that she must resign as Lisanti “can no longer be effective at her job.”
Harford County and much of Maryland have been roiled since last week amid reports of Lisanti’s use of the slur.
Lisanti has rebuffed calls to resign from multiple groups in Harford County and the state, Gov. Larry Hogan, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman — both Republicans — and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat.
House Speaker Michael Busch, a Democrat, stripped Lisanti of subcommittee and a joint committee leadership positions, and she has been removed from the House Economic Matters Committee. The House voted unanimously last Thursday to censure Lisanti, the second-highest punishment for a House member before expulsion.
Lisanti can now only attend House floor sessions and vote on legislation. She told The Aegis earlier this week that she plans to return to work and continue to support bills she has sponsored, after not being present on the House floor or in her Annapolis office last Friday or Monday and Tuesday of this week. She returned for Wednesday morning’s floor session.
Lisanti said she has taken responsibility for her remarks and plans to work to repair relationships with her constituents.
“I think I can, absolutely,” she said. “I think redemption is possible.”
Call for resignation upheld despite objection
Johnson, who was named the club’s full-time president in February, stressed that the club board made the decision to seek Lisanti’s resignation, as “this board always makes, as they have been doing for the last 21 years.”
Johnson stuck by the decision even after one member questioned and then objected to it.
“That’s a bad decision, too,” said Dick French, an Aberdeen resident who is a charter member going back to when the club was founded in the late 1990s. French is also a former board member.
“OK, well noted, and the decision has been made and it will stand,” Johnson replied.
French expressed his anger over the board’s decision to an Aegis reporter following Wednesday’s meeting. He said the statement should have been discussed during a general club meeting.
French said Lisanti has been an “excellent” representative for Harford County, and he blamed the club’s push for resignation on “political correctness.”
He noted Lisanti was wrong to use a racial slur but stressed that “she’s apologized to anything that moves.”
There were four guest speakers at Wednesday’s meeting including Mike Bracknell, vice chair of the Harford County Democratic Central Committee; Helen Mann, of Together We Will-Harford County/Upper Chesapeake; James Thornton, of the Harford County Caucus of African-American Leaders; and James Sweeting, of the African-American Democratic Clubs of Maryland.
Johnson was the Democratic nominee in the race for the District E seat on the Harford County Council in 2018 — Republican Robert Wagner, a former District E representative and council president, won the race.
She said the four groups represented Wednesday “have made their mark in Harford County” and were active during the election on many of the same issues on which the New Harford Democratic Club has been working, such as voter education and outreach.
“These are the organizations that we noticed were out and working just as hard as we were, trying to accomplish their mission and being a part of the process,” Johnson told the audience.
Sweeting praised Democrats for independence among party members, from conservatives to “radical liberal” far-left progressives, comparing them with Republicans who he described as “a party in lockstep.”
“No matter where you fall on the spectrum . . . There is room for you in his party, and there’s room for you here in Harford County,” he said.
Sweeting also noted that getting a group of people with diverse perspectives to unify can be, at times, like “herding cats.” He said local Democrats have appeared to be “unorganized” and “at each others’ throats” since the controversy over Lisanti started.”
“I’m not trying to get everybody to agree, but what I’m trying to do is to get everybody to march together so that we can offset the poison that is eking through our democratic system, so that we can maintain the democracy that we do have,” he said.