Calls Mount for Delegate’s Resignation

Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George's), chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

The calls for resignation mounted Wednesday against a Harford County delegate who apologized for using the N-word as a slur earlier this legislative session.

“We all agree that we are calling for her resignation,” Maryland Legislative Black Caucus Chair Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s) said Wednesday afternoon after a somber gathering of caucus members in the House office building. “There is no place here in the House of Delegates for that type of language to be used. It is unacceptable. It is offensive and it is very hurtful.”

 The Washington Post reported earlier this week that Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford) “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.’”

Barnes said Wednesday that the caucus had not rushed to judgment, knew Lisanti as a House colleague and fellow Democrat, but that “party has nothing to do with the hatred and bigotry that comes out of someone’s mouth.”

The Maryland Democratic Party, Maryland Republican Party, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R), Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), NAACP, ACLU and others had issued calls for Lisanti’s resignation by Wednesday afternoon.

African Americans comprise approximately a third of the voters in Lisanti’s district and they deserve to be represented by a person who is considerate of their views, a champion for their issues, respectful and appreciative of diverse people, and dedicated to cultivating an inclusive economy and democracy. For this reason, I support calls for Lisanti to resign her position,” Maryland Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings said Wednesday.

Whether or not Lisanti remains in office, Cummings said the lawmaker should “immediately and publicly commit herself to dismantling institutional racism” in the state.

Hogan urged Lisanti to resign: “The language of racism and hate has no place in our public discourse,” he said. “Any public official who engages in this reprehensible conduct should do the right thing and step down.”

Alsobrooks said Lisanti’s reported comments reflected “dinosaur’s views” and she was most disturbed by Lisanti’s comment to The Post that she was “sure everyone has used” the slur.

“Anyone who’s that ignorant should resign or be fired,” Alsobrooks said before a bank of cameras in an Annapolis hallway on her way to a hearing about education funding. But the county executive went further.

“If we really care about equity and inclusion in this country, then we won’t get stuck just in this conversation about that word,” Alsobrooks said. “…We ought to be stuck as well on the things that will move us forward. And that’s education funding, that’s funding the inner Beltway areas of our communities, eliminating food deserts.”

Barnes echoed the same sentiment after leaving the caucus meeting a bit earlier. “Where’s the outrage when we talk about the lack of funding for education? You know, I need that outrage for that as well. Where’s the outrage for the men and women that have been falsely accused and incarcerated? Where’s that outrage? You know?” he said.

“This is one word that came out of one person’s mouth and that we all know will be repeated by someone else time and time again. So I need that same passion, that same outrage, for the things that we are trying to get accomplished here,” Barnes said. “…Once we can get that, then I think we can definitely move in the right direction.”

Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford)

Barnes said he would draft the letter on behalf of the caucus and deliver it to House leadership. He said the Women’s Caucus, Latino Caucus and the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Caucus were also planning letters of support for the priorities of the black caucus.

Lisanti left the House chamber after the regular session Wednesday morning trailed by a crowd of television cameras and reporters, declining to comment. She issued a written statement apologizing for her “word choice” on Tuesday, but has not publicly addressed her colleagues or constituents.

“I understand that the use of inappropriate and insensitive language is not acceptable under any circumstance,” the lawmaker said. “I am sorry for the hurt I have caused and will do everything I can to help heal that pain and regain the trust of my colleagues and constituents. I pray for forgiveness.”

Lisanti had also agreed as of Tuesday afternoon to undergo sensitivity training. House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) took away Lisanti’s gavel; she was chair of the House Economic Matters unemployment insurance subcommittee.

Barnes said the caucus was united in its call for resignation and wanted to “do the right thing” as the youth of the state look to African-American lawmakers for guidance. He recalled the killings of Emmett Till, Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin as reminders that racial inequity is still a serious issue in 2019. He noted that colleagues in the Virginia legislature have recently dealt with disturbing allegations of top Democratic officials wearing black face when they were younger.

“You look at what’s going on in Virginia, you look at how this hatred is being spewed down from our president and right now everybody in the world is saying, ‘What in the world is going on in the state of Maryland?’” Barnes said. “And no, we did not want to be on the same path as Virginia. And we kind of hold ourselves at a certain standard right here. We want to do what’s the right thing.”

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.
Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.

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