A white lawmaker from Harford County apologized to the leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland for using a racial slur to describe a legislative district in Prince George’s County — but also told her black colleagues that she did not recall saying it, according to two lawmakers who attended the meeting.
Caucus members confronted Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D) on Monday night over allegations that she told a white colleague, during an after-hours gathering at an Annapolis cigar bar, that when he campaigned in Prince George’s on behalf of a candidate last fall he was door-knocking in a “n----- district.”
Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), who chairs the Black Caucus, said Lisanti appeared contrite during the meeting.
“She apologized several times,” Barnes said. “She recognizes how she has hurt so many within the caucus, and she hoped to repent from this. She said that she doesn’t remember fully what happened, but she recognizes what happened.”
Lisanti, 51, did not return calls seeking comment.
Her apologies came after each of the seven members of the caucus’s executive committee told her how they felt upon learning that their colleague allegedly used the racial slur.
Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-Wicomico) recounted a recent trip she took with her young children to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where she spoke to them about words and symbols used throughout history to denigrate African Americans.
“To hear from a colleague, in 2019, to express that same tone . . . it is very disheartening and frustrating,” Sample-Hughes said.
Barnes said he was “really disturbed” by accounts of what Lisanti said, and he wants her to apologize to the entire caucus and participate in sensitivity training. He left open the possibility that the caucus might offer other recommendations to House leadership.
“I do think that someone who uses the word, it’s a reflection of what’s in their heart,” Barnes said.
Lisanti, a second-term lawmaker, is a member of the House Economic Matters Committee, which hears legislation that deals with alcohol, banking and insurance. She chairs the unemployment insurance subcommittee. Before being elected to the General Assembly, she served two terms on the Harford County Council and worked as city manager in Havre de Grace.
The allegation against her comes during the 90-day legislative session in Annapolis, and on the heels of a legislative session in Richmond scarred by revelations that Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam (D) and Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) used blackface decades ago.
Questioned by The Washington Post earlier this month about her alleged use of the racial slur, Lisanti said: “I don’t recall that. . . . I don’t recall much of that evening.”
When asked whether she has 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.”
Sample-Hughes said Monday night that she wondered why Lisanti seemed comfortable with the word and asked during the meeting if Lisanti grew up in a household where the word was used. “She didn’t give a direct response,” Sample-Hughes said.
Lisanti allegedly made the remark at Annapolis Cigar in late January in front of a small, racially mixed group of lawmakers. Those in attendance at some point during the evening included Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s), who represents the district Lisanti was allegedly referring to; House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City); Dels. Theresa E. Reilly (R-Harford), Warren E. Miller (R-Howard) and Carl L. Anderton Jr. (R-Wicomico); and state Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery).
Feldman and Miller said they left before the alleged slur was made. Branch said he came later. Reilly and Anderton declined to answer questions from The Post about what happened.
Walker, who earlier this month declined to discuss the incident, said Monday that he was there when Lisanti used the slur and addressed it with her privately.
“I was leaning on my time in football,” said Walker, a former professional quarterback. “It was something I had to handle inside the locker room, and I handled it appropriately. I made my disappointment known. When she apologized, I told her how disappointed I was.”
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) also expressed disappointment in Lisanti’s alleged conduct in a statement Monday. He urged her to apologize to her colleagues “and face the consequences of her behavior.”
“There is no place in the House of Delegates for any racial slurs — or slurs of any kind in society in general,” Busch said.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) called the reports of what Lisanti said “disturbing and offensive.”
“I would love for her to come here and visit so I can show her the true Prince George’s County,” Alsobrooks said.
Before the meeting with Lisanti on Monday, one member of the caucus executive committee said that an apology “would be a good start.”
“When you are using that type of language, that type of offensive language, it calls into question how you view an entire community and your colleagues,” said the committee member, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly in advance of the closed-door meeting. “We have had a number of members who expressed concern, and we wanted to make sure we talked to all parties involved. This gives her an opportunity to address us.”
Another member of the Black Caucus, who had been told of the incident by three people who were there, called it “highly offensive.”
“You are making policies for black people,” said the lawmaker, one of several caucus members who brought the issue to the attention of the executive committee. “If multiple individuals said you referred to a district in Prince George’s [with a racial slur], you should apologize.”
This is a developing story. It has been updated.