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Maryland House censures lawmaker who made racial slur

March 1, 2019
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) — A white Maryland lawmaker was censured by the state’s House of Delegates on Thursday for making a racial slur about a legislative district in a majority-black county, but she said she would not resign despite calls for her to do so.

The House voted 137-0 for the body’s expression of severe disapproval against Del. Mary Ann Lisanti.

“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,” said Del. Kathleen Dumais, a Democrat who is the House majority leader.

In addition, House Speaker Michael Busch is kicking Lisanti off of a legislative committee. The speaker already has stripped Lisanti of a leadership post she held earlier in the week.

Lisanti, a Harford County Democrat who is in her second term, apologized earlier in the week to the Legislative Black Caucus and the Democratic House Caucus, as well as publicly in a written statement, after The Washington Post reported she used the slur in reference to Prince George’s County during an after-hours gathering with fellow legislators at a cigar lounge in the state capital after a dinner.

Maryland political leaders from both parties and civil rights groups have called for her resignation. After the censure vote, however, Lisanti said she will not resign. She rose in the House chamber to speak, but she was not acknowledged and spoke to reporters outside of the chamber.

“To those who have called for my resignation, I say quitting is easy, but not the road to redemption,” Lisanti said. “Quitting this body would in fact be an easy way out.”

The resolution the House voted on noted that Lisanti “has publicly admitted to using a hateful and derogatory racial slur while describing a predominantly African American legislative district in Prince George’s County.”

Even after apologizing earlier this week, Lisanti expressed some doubt Thursday about whether she used the word, though she said she was taking responsibility for saying it.

“It is apparent that some in attendance heard, or thought they overheard, an inappropriate word, and in lieu of reporting the incident in accordance with our newly adopted harassment policy chose to instead contact a member of the media, thus igniting the firestorm that brings us all here tonight,” she said.

The situation has caused a considerable distraction this week, as the General Assembly has crossed into the second half of its annual 90-day session.

The speaker said he would not allow the House to be “torn apart by hurtful and divisive slurs.”

“Delegate Lisanti’s use of a racial slur to describe an entire community is inexcusable,” Busch, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Her actions have caused hurt and disappointment among legislators and the general public. This behavior has become a distraction to the important work that these dedicated public servants do each and every day in the legislature.”

Nearly 30 percent of the state’s population is African-American, and 57 members of the 188-member General Assembly are black.

When Lisanti was first asked about the comment by the Post, the newspaper reported that she said: “I don’t recall that ... I don’t recall much of that evening.”

Asked Thursday about whether she believes she had had too much to drink that night, she said “I do not,” adding she had just had a very long day.

The condemnation of the comment came as state government in neighboring Virginia has been embroiled in scandal after Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, acknowledged they wore blackface in the 1980s. They have resisted calls to resign.

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