A Maryland lawmaker who witnesses say used a racial slur to describe a legislative district in Prince George’s County has been stripped of her leadership position and will undergo sensitivity training, the House speaker’s office announced Tuesday.
Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford), who is white, issued a public apology Tuesday afternoon, after addressing the executive committee of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland on Monday night and the House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday morning.
“I deeply apologize . . . for my word choice several weeks ago,” Lisanti, 51, said in a statement. “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 my heart.”
Lisanti used the slur in front of several colleagues at an Annapolis cigar bar in late January. She told another white lawmaker that when he campaigned in Prince George’s on behalf of a candidate last fall, he was door-knocking in a “n----- district,” said Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s), who witnessed the comment and represents the district in question.
Questioned about the incident by The Washington Post early this month, Lisanti said she did not recall using the racial slur at the gathering.
But asked whether she had ever used the slur, she said: “I’m sure I have. . . . I’m sure everyone has used it. I’ve used the f-word. I used the Lord’s name in vain.”
Walker, who is black, initially declined to discuss the incident with The Post. On Monday, after The Post published an article about it, he said he addressed the slur with Lisanti privately.
While speaking to Black Caucus leaders Monday night, Lisanti again said she did not recall using the racial slur at the cigar bar, according to Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), who chairs the caucus. Barnes described Lisanti late Monday as contrite during that closed-door session. But Tuesday, he told reporters that her initial apology was “woefully inadequate.”
Barnes said he’d received numerous calls from colleagues and constituents demanding Lisanti’s resignation, removal from her subcommittee chairmanship and censure on the House floor.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he told Lisanti she would no longer chair the unemployment insurance subcommittee of the House Economic Matters Committee. “Leaders in the House need to be able to bring people together — not tear them apart,” Busch said in a statement.
Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County branch of the NAACP, questioned the decision by Walker to address the issue with Lisanti privately. He said Lisanti’s use of the slur should have been made public and brought to Busch’s attention sooner.
Many of Lisanti’s colleagues are struggling to accept her apology, said Del. Charles E. Sydnor (D-Baltimore County), who sits on the executive committee of the 57-member Black Caucus.
“It’s a privilege to be down here representing the citizens of the state of Maryland,” he said. “When you characterize a segment of your community in that light, it really calls into question the decisions that you are likely to be making.”
He said he has to assume that Lisanti is sincere in her apology.
“Many folks don’t realize . . . the micro- and macro-aggressions and racial epithets we have to hear on a regular basis,” said Del. Jazz M. Lewis (D-Prince George’s). “And then to hear from one of our colleagues, who we assume values and respects us, it’s very hurtful. It makes you question. . . . Do you view us all like that?”
Harford County, which is northeast of Baltimore County, is about 76 percent non-Hispanic white and 14 percent black, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Prince George’s, the state’s second-most populous jurisdiction, is about 65 percent black and 13 percent non-Hispanic white.
Zilpha P. Smith, president of the Harford NAACP chapter, said the county’s African American community has supported Lisanti in the past and was deeply hurt by the revelation of her remark.
“An apology is not enough,” said Smith, who plans to call an emergency executive committee meeting to discuss how to respond. “It does call into question the kind of person I have known her to be. It is now making me feel you are a person who smiles in my face and calls me something else behind my back.”
Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard) said, “An immediate apology could have avoided all of this. . . . I was outraged that there is an individual who is also responsible for making policy for the state [and] felt that comfortable and open to calling an entire district the n-word.”
Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore City), a former chairwoman of the Black Caucus, said Lisanti “never quite admitted to what she did. . . . As long as you live, you are going to make a mistake, but you have to own it. And so this is more than a mistake; this shows racial intolerance.”
Lisanti said in her statement that she has agreed to participate in sensitivity training and understands “that the use of inappropriate and insensitive language is not acceptable under any circumstance.”
“I am sorry for the hurt I have caused and will do everything I can to help heal that pain and regain the trust of my colleagues and constituents,” Lisanti said. “I pray for forgiveness.”
Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report.