The night after she faced censure by her colleagues in the Maryland House of Delegates, there was a growing chorus of voices calling for Del. Mary Ann Lisanti to resign.
Lisanti, a Democrat from Harford County, had earlier apologized for using a racial slur in referring to a Prince George’s County legislative district when she was in conversation at an Annapolis cigar bar last month.
The Friday news conference organized by the Maryland NAACP featured lawmakers, including leadership from the Legislative Black Caucus, and other organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Jews United for Justice.
Several Harford County residents and activists also spoke, each calling for Lisanti to step down.
Gerald Stansbury, the NAACP of Maryland chair, told reporters, “The focus in Annapolis or anywhere else in our state should be on cultural awareness, diversity and inclusion. Not racism and bigotry.”
Del. Darryl Barnes, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Lisanti is irreparably damaged by the scandal over her use of the racial slur and that she is now, effectively, a lame duck, stripped of her leadership and committee assignments.
“I’m sure her constituents cannot be happy that she is not advocating or fighting on their behalf,” Barnes said. He took exception to Lisanti’s changing explanation about the incident.
Initially, Lisanti reportedly told The Washington Post that she could not recall details of the night last month where she supposedly referred to a Prince George’s County legislative district as “a n- district.” When pressed, she told the news outlet she “was sure” that she has used the N-word, adding that she believed “everyone has used it.”
Lisanti apologized to the members of the Legislative Black Caucus on Monday night. She then issued a statement Tuesday, saying, “I am sickened that a word that is not in my vocabulary came out of my mouth.”
After her censure Thursday night, Lisanti suggested that she had not, in fact, said the word.
In a statement provided to reporters, she referred to the evening at the cigar bar last month, saying, “It is apparent that someone in attendance heard or thought they overheard an inappropriate word and attributed it to me.”
Barnes said as Lisanti’s account of the incident changes, “now she sounds like Gov. Ralph Northam — and that’s a problem.”
Barnes was referring to the Virginia governor’s shifting explanation for the photo in his medical school yearbook in which someone appeared in blackface next to a person in Ku Klux Klan garb.
Del. Jay Walker, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, was incensed at the suggestion that Lisanti didn’t make the comment.
“I was there,” he said. “She needs to apologize to my district, to Prince George’s County and to the state.”
Dea Galloway, a Harford County resident, said she had voted for Lisanti. An African-American and a veteran, Galloway said she was heartbroken over Lisanti’s comments.
“I’m really, really disappointed that this is happening in 2019. I’ve served my country, I’ve served my community, and this is really hurting me,” Galloway said.
Barnes said Lisanti didn’t appear remorseful, adding that with so many others calling for her to step down, including the Legislative Black Caucus and the NAACP, “that she reflects over the weekend, that when she comes in on Monday morning, she looks herself in the mirror and says, ‘I must resign.'”
Barnes was asked about what other pressure could be brought to bear on Lisanti to leave office in light of the fact that she has indicated she is staying put. He told reporters, “As a body of leaders, we have done everything we possibly can here in the House of Delegates.”
But, he also added, “Everything is on the table,” without further explanation.
Bottom line, said Barnes: “If you are a Democrat or a Republican, if you’re black or white, those words are not acceptable here.”
WTOP’s Kate Ryan reported from Annapolis, Maryland.