Leaders and lawmakers react to Md. delegate’s use of racial slur

WASHINGTON — The news that a Harford County delegate used a racial slur in describing a legislative district in Prince George’s County has shaken people who know Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, including the Chair of the Harford County NAACP Zilpha P. Smith.

Smith said she’s known Lisanti, who is white, for years.

“I have known Mary Ann even before she ran,” Smith said. “I knew her mother. And I think her mother would be absolutely appalled by her actions.”

The news that Lisanti used a racial slur in referring to part of Prince George’s County left Smith with a range of emotions. Smith said she was “disappointed, appalled; and I guess truly, truly angry.”

Tuesday afternoon, Lisanti’s office issued a statement of apology. In it, the delegate wrote, “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 in my heart.”

But Smith wonders about that.

Hearing that the delegate she knew as someone who appeared to care about the African American community in her district had Smith wondering.

Referring to Lisanti, Smith said, “Deep down, how can I trust you anymore to represent this county and this district in which I live in?”

Smith said the use of the slur just doesn’t square with the person she felt she knew.

“The Mary Ann that I know has been a person who is very supportive,” Smith said.

Smith noted that while Lisanti appeared before the Legislative Black Caucus to apologize, “The Black Caucus did not elect her.”

Del. Darryl Barnes, who represents Prince George’s County, and is chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, was present when Lisanti apologized to members of the caucus Monday night. He was not impressed.

“I think she’s more remorseful now because of the amount of attention this is getting,” Barnes said Tuesday.

Barnes said his office has been getting calls saying that Lisanti ought to step down, and that she should be removed from her chairmanship of a subcommittee. Monday, House Speaker Michael Busch issued a statement saying that Lisanti would, in fact, no longer chair the subcommittee on unemployment insurance. She would also have to take “sensitivity training.”

Smith said Lisanti needs to meet with constituents as well as the organizations that have supported her.

“Many of us — and I’m speaking of the African American community now — supported her in her re-election and have supported her all down through the years,” Smith said. “So this has really left us just sickened by the fact that she used this term.”

Del. Talmadge Branch, House Majority Whip said, “There are some things you just don’t say.”

He added, “You may say something and you don’t even know that it’s hurting someone, that’s different. When you know that is a word that is certainly distasteful to someone, it’s a word you just don’t use.”

Branch said Busch “did his due diligence” in removing Lisanti from the subcommittee.

Del. Gabriel Acevero, who represents areas in Montgomery County, said he was disappointed to hear that Lisanti had used such a “vitriolic” word, and while he did not attend Monday night’s meeting of the Legislative Black Caucus members, he said Lisanti’s initial apology came off as “underwhelming.”

Smith said Lisanti will have to work with her constituents to be able to legislate effectively.

“We can accept and forgive you, but the thing of it is, there is a price that you must pay for your actions. And, there has to be some consequences.”

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