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SEABROOK – Prince George’s County leadership condemned racist remarks made by a state delegate and joined a chorus of state representatives demanding that she resigned.
It was reported on Feb. 25 that Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford County) called a part of the county that she was helping campaign in an “n—– district” to a co-worker after hours in Annapolis. When questioned about her comments by The Washington Post, Lisanti said, “I don’t recall that…I don’t recall much of that evening.”
Reactions hit county officials hard. In an impromptu press conference on Feb. 27 in Annapolis with Del. Darryl Barnes and Del. Michael A. Jackson standing by her side, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks called for the resignation of Lisanti, saying her comments were “hurtful, ignorant.”
“Her opinions do not mean anything; a woman who represents people 100 miles away from Prince George’s County,” Alsobrooks said. “We know who we are…We think she should resign; I think anybody would agree that a person who goes to work and espouses the views that she did should be fired.”
The following day, during her testimony on a school construction bill with the House Appropriations Committee, the county executive readdressed Lisanti’s comments, calling them “derogatory” towards the “beautiful people of Prince George’s and our response as a collective group was that we are not interested in outrage, we just want equity.”
County Council Chair Todd Turner sided with Alsobrooks and county and state representatives, called Lisanti’s comments “abhorrent and harmful” and demanded that she give residents a public apology for her words.
“We are proud, hardworking and longstanding citizens of the larger Maryland community and its history, and we share in the continuing fight for equality and opportunity for all,” Turner said. “… In the best interest of the state and its residents, Delegate Lisanti must make an important decision about her ability to effectively legislate on behalf of Maryland’s richly diverse communities.”
Prince George’s County is widely considered the home of one of the largest and most affluent African American communities in the country. According to 2018 U.S. Census data, 64.4 percent of its 2018 population classified as Black or African American. The area Lisanti referenced in her comments is reported to be District 32, which contains Accokeek, Fort Washington and Friendly.
Once her comments were made public, Lisanti, who represents the 34A District, released a statement where she apologized for her comments, acknowledged meeting with the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland about her language and agreed to step down as chair of the Unemployment Insurance subcommittee and undergo sensitivity training. House Speaker Michael E. Busch confirmed that Lisanti gave a “heartfelt” apology to the House Democratic Caucus as well but “the damage among her colleagues and the public has been done.”
She was not available for comment in her office in Annapolis on March 1.
“I deeply apologize to my constituents, my colleagues in the Maryland General Assembly, the citizens of Maryland and all who are reading this for my word choice,” Lisanti said. “I am sickened that word came out of my mouth. It is not in my vocabulary, and it does not represent my belief system, my life’s work or what’s in my heart.”
A planned protest for March 1, organized by former state delegate candidate Sherman Hardy, was called off once it was learned that Lisanti was not in her office. Multiple protesters accompanied him to the House of Delegates, and they brought signs using the term that the state delegate used.
Once security officials saw the language on the signs, Hardy was asked to leave the property. Hardy, a Democratic candidate who lost in the 2018 primary election to represent District 25, said he took the comments personally after being called the derogatory term during his time serving in the military.
“The future of our protest is to go to Harford County and protest and take the fight to her,” Hardy said. “Apparently, she is cowering out and she does not want to come back here, so we have to meet her where she is at or wherever she wants to hold a meeting, but a conversation needs to be had.”
Upper Marlboro resident Shawn Young, 47, came out to Annapolis to help with the protest, saying he has appreciated how the leaders in the county have engaged the situation, in hopes that any more discriminating comments about a county are not said ever again.
“People of leadership should not have hate,” Young said. “If they are in power and in leadership, they should try to build up everyone in the best interest for the state of Maryland as well as its particular counties, whether you disagree or agree with them. People in power should not anything like that to say because it is very divisive.”
Fellow state lawmakers were quick to condemn Lisanti, voting unanimously, 136-0, to censure her on Feb. 28. Lisanti was not acknowledged by House Speaker Busch prior to the vote and told reporters afterward that she does not plan to step down at this time.
“Rolling up your sleeves and attacking political and racial diversity that is tearing the fiber of our nation and our state is hard work,” Lisanti said. “But I am up for the challenge, and that is why I am staying.”
Gov. Larry Hogan addressed the controversy as well, stating on his official Twitter account that racist comments do not belong in the public discourse and that “any public official who engages in this reprehensible conduct should do the right thing and step down.”