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Calls for Maryland lawmaker to resign renewed after censure

March 1, 2019
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Maryland Del. Mary Ann Lisanti talks to reporters after the House of Delegates voted to censure her on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 in Annapolis, Md., for making a racial slur about a majority-black county. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Lawmakers, civil rights leaders and voters renewed calls for a white Maryland lawmaker to resign Friday, a day after she was censured unanimously in a House vote for making a racial slur.

The NAACP joined black lawmakers and voters from the district of Del. Mary Ann Lisanti in calling for her to step down.

“I have been voting for her for a long time and I’m very, very disappointed,” said Dea Galloway, a Harford County resident. “I’m a mother of three beautiful children, and I teach my children about diversity and inclusion, and I’m heartbroken, and I’m really, really hurting right now because she represents me ... and I’m really, really disappointed that this is happening in 2019.”

The House of Delegates voted 137-0 Thursday to censure Lisanti, a Democrat, in a resolution that said “she has publicly admitted to using a hateful and derogatory racial slur while describing a predominantly African American legislative district in Prince George’s County.”

Responding to repeated questions from reporters after Thursday’s vote for censure, Lisanti said she could not definitively say whether she said the word in a gathering with fellow legislators at a cigar store last month after a committee dinner in Maryland’s capital city. She said that “with counsel of trusted friends and lack of independent verification, I took responsibility for the said action.”

Del. Jay Walker, who represents a district in Prince George’s County who was present at the gathering, said Lisanti made the comment.

“I was there,” Walker said. “It wasn’t ‘alleged,’ so she needs to apologize to my district, to Prince George’s County and to the state.”

Del. Darryl Barnes, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, said Lisanti’s statement after the censure only brought him “more concerns.”

“She said it once before that ‘I did say it,‘” Barnes said. “Now, she’s saying that ‘I didn’t say it.’ To me, she sounds like (Virginia) Gov. Ralph Northam, and that is a problem.”

The outcry in Maryland is happening as state government in neighboring Virginia has been shaken by scandal after Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, acknowledged they wore blackface in the 1980s. They have resisted calls to resign.

Lisanti apologized to caucus leaders Monday, followed by another apology to the House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday, as well as a public statement in which she said she was “sickened that a word that is not in my vocabulary came out of my mouth.”

She told reporters Thursday she wasn’t resigning. Lisanti didn’t attend the session on Friday. She missed a House vote to raise the state’s minimum wage, a high-profile bill this legislative session.

House Speaker Michael Busch has removed her from a legislative committee and stripped her of a subcommittee leadership position. Barnes described Lisanti as “basically a lame duck delegate.” State lawmakers in Maryland are near the start of a four-year term.

“It is my hope that with the Legislative Black Caucus, the NAACP and so many others that she reflects over the weekend that when she comes in on Monday morning she will be able to look herself in the mirror and say that: ‘I must resign,’” Barnes said.

Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Maryland, joined the NAACP and Zainab Chaudry, director of Maryland Outreach for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in calling for Lisanti’s resignation.

“All of Delegate Lisanti’s constituents deserve to have an elected leader who respects them, who values them and appreciates their humanity,” Shelley said. “She must go now.”