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House Censures Harford Delegate Who Used N-Word

Brian Witte/AP

The House of Delegates voted Thursday to censure Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, whose district is in Harford County, for her use of the n-word. The Democrat was heard using the slur to describe a district in Prince George’s County during an event at a cigar bar in Annapolis in January.

By Thursday night, calls for Lisanti to resign were coming from all directions. The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, the state Democratic and Republican parties, the state branches of the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, Gov. Larry Hogan, and members of the state’s congressional delegation all said she should step down.

But Lisanti, who just started her second four-year term, said she won’t resign.

Instead, the House voted unanimously to issue a formal reprimand.

Del. Rick Impallaria, a Republican whose district includes parts of Harford and Baltimore counties, didn’t vote.

Speaking on the floor before the vote, House Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais called it a “sad day” in the House.

“The public expects and deserves legislators who hold themselves and each other to the highest standards,” Dumais said. “With this vote, we are saying as a body that racial slurs and racially charged language cannot and will not be tolerated by this House.”

In addition to the censure, Lisanti was removed from the Economic Matters committee, where until this week, she led a subcommittee. She is required to have sensitivity training.

Clearly angry after the censure vote, Lisanti said she had hoped to give a speech on the floor.

“My intention was to make these remarks on the House floor because I thought that was appropriate. I thought it was important. I have sat quietly for the last couple of days, and I wanted to — I have some things that I wanted to say about this extremely, extremely unfortunate event,” she said.

But aides to House Speaker Michael Busch said she failed to follow the protocol to get the speaker’s attention.

So after the House dismissed, Lisanti told reporters her version of what happened the night she was heard using the n-word.

“It is apparent that some in attendance heard or thought they overheard an inappropriate word,” she said.

She said she does not believe she actually said the slur, but she took responsibility for it because she lacked “independent verification.”

She recounted how, following the advice of Busch and the state Legislative Black Caucus, she apologized in person to the Democratic Caucus and wrote a formal letter of apology to the whole House of Delegates.

And she called the slur she has been accused of saying “deplorable.”

“It is not in my vocabulary and does not represent my belief system, my life’s work or my heart,” she said.

Resigning, Lisanti said, would be taking the easy way out, and it would leave her constituents without a vote until her seat could be filled after the session ends.

Instead she laid out her path forward.

“I am immediately reorganizing my office and looking to hire an individual that will help me reach out to diverse communities in my county so that may lead a way to better understanding and more opportunities,” she said.

She also said she will accept Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks’ invitation to visit the county.

In a statement Thursday night, Busch called Lisanti’s use of the slur “inexcusable.”

“Delegate Lisanti has a lot of work to do to rebuild her relationships with her colleagues, her constituents and the people of Maryland,” he wrote. “I hope she is ready and prepared to put in the effort for the long road ahead.”

The state conference of the NAACP plans to hold a press conference Friday, reiterating calls for Lisanti to resign.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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