Political leaders across Maryland called Wednesday on Harford County Del. Mary Ann Lisanti to resign after her use of a racial slur at an Annapolis bar last month — including demands from Gov. Larry Hogan, the leader of her own party and the state’s influential Legislative Black Caucus.
Hogan, Maryland Democratic Party chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the 57-member Legislative Black Caucus and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks — about whose county Lisanti reportedly used the slur — added their powerful voices to the growing calls for Lisanti’s resignation. House Speaker Michael Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat, has already stripped Lisanti, a Havre de Grace Democrat who apologized Tuesday for using the slur, of two leadership assignments.
“The language of racism and hate has no place in our public discourse. Any public official who engages in this reprehensible conduct should do the right thing and step down,” Hogan said in a tweet Wednesday afternoon.
The governor’s tweet came after Rockeymoore Cummings issued a statement calling for Lisanti to step down.
"While Harford County Delegate Mary Ann Lisanti has apologized for referring to Prince George’s County as a ‘n----- district,’ further insight provided by some of her African American constituents about the kind of political positions and actions that she has taken that are consistent with the sentiment reflected in her poor choice of words underscores that an apology and promise to undergo diversity training are not enough,” Rockeymoore Cummings said in a statement.
JoWanda Strickland-Lucas, a community activist from Harford County, said there’s been growing frustration with Lisanti — even before the racial slur.
Strickland-Lucas cited a vote Lisanti made in 2015 against restoring voting rights to ex-felons. The bill, which ultimately became law, was a priority for the NAACP and African-American residents of Harford.
“The reason why it was upsetting to me is the African-American community overwhelmingly voted for her,” Strickland-Lucas said.
Strickland-Lucas said Lisanti also took votes when she was a member of the Harford County Council that enabled industrial development that residents did not support.
The African American Democratic Clubs of Maryland, including the Harford County chapter, called Tuesday for Lisanti’s resignation and were joined Wednesday by the Legislative Black Caucus, which did the same.
“We all agree that we are calling for her resignation,” said Del. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, after a closed-door caucus meeting. “What happened here in the state of Maryland, once again, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. … There is no place here in the House of Delegates for that kind of language to be used. It is unacceptable. It is offensive and it is very hurtful.”
Standing beside Barnes in Annapolis, Alsobrooks said that Lisanti’s comments were ignorant and that she should resign.
“If you come to work and utter it, you should lose your job,” said Alsobrooks, a Democrat.
Lisanti apologized Tuesday morning to the House Democratic Caucus for using the slur and released a statement asking for forgiveness. She declined to comment to The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday and did not respond to inquires Wednesday. Lisanti was not present in the House Economic Matters Committee as bill hearings began Wednesday afternoon.
Lisanti released a statement Tuesday afternoon in which she asked for forgiveness.
“I deeply apologize to the citizens of my district, people of Maryland, all of my colleagues in the Maryland General Assembly and everyone reading this for my word choice several weeks ago,” Lisanti’s statement said. “I am sickened that a word that is not in my vocabulary came out of my mouth. It does not represent my belief system, my life’s work or what is in my heart.”
Also seeking Lisanti’s resignation Wednesday were the Maryland Republican Party, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Rep. Anthony Brown and Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
“Her comment referring to Prince George's County as a ‘n----- district’ is beneath the office of Delegate, and we agree with the Legislative Black Caucus that her apology was inadequate,” said state GOP chairman Dirk Haire.
The Maryland State Conference of the NAACP announced it would hold a news conference in Annapolis Friday morning pressuring Lisanti to resign.
And Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, one of the state’s leading Republicans, also said she should resign.
Glassman, who was in Annapolis Tuesday and Wednesday, testifying on various bills in his capacity as president of the Maryland Association of Counties, said that often the first question he has been asked since Tuesday is related to Lisanti’s remark, not the priorities of local governments in the state.
“It has just shed a very poor light on the county as a whole,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “It’s not a good reflection on Harford County, and I just wanted to be on record opposing that kind of language and what it stands for, because we’re a lot better than that in Harford County.”
He said he thinks Lisanti’s situation “is going to impede her ability to represent [Harford] County in the future.”
But Al Williamson, an appointed member of the Harford County Board of Education, expressed support for Lisanti.
“I do not defend what she said, but in defense of her service to the people, to minorities, to everybody in Harford County and in the state of Maryland, she deserves better,” said Williamson, who is white.
Williamson, 83, a Republican who contacted a reporter to express his concerns, said he thinks Lisanti’s remarks are “a mistake that a lot of people can make and will make, and we should forgive her and help her and not throw her in the lion’s den.”
Vacancies in the General Assembly are filled through appointments by the governor, who must accept or decline a recommended candidate by a political district’s central committee. If a Democrat leaves office, the Democratic Central Committee of that district would recommend a replacement to Hogan. Lisanti makes a $50,330 base salary as a delegate.
Lisanti reportedly told a white colleague in late January at Annapolis Cigar that when he campaigned last fall in House District 26 in Prince George’s County on behalf of a candidate, he was knocking on doors in a “n— — district,” according to The Washington Post.
As a result, Busch stripped Lisanti of her posts as chairwoman of a House subcommittee on unemployment insurance and as House chairwoman of a joint committee on unemployment insurance.
CAIR Director of Maryland Outreach Zainab Chaudry said Lisanti needs to be held to a high moral standard.
“This insult is particularly disturbing considering that Delegate Lisanti is a Democrat who was voted into office in a Republican county partly through support from her African-American constituents,” Chaudry said. “She has lost public trust, along with the ability to demonstrate that she can represent all of her district in a fair manner.”
Rockeymoore Cummings said resignation is appropriate for Lisanti.
“African Americans comprise approximately a third of the voters in Lisanti’s district and they deserve to be represented by a person who is considerate of their views, a champion for their issues, respectful and appreciative of diverse people, and dedicated to cultivating an inclusive economy and democracy,” Cummings said. “For this reason, I support calls for Lisanti to resign her position.”
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter David Anderson contributed to this article.