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House Will Meet Thursday Evening to Vote on Censuring Lisanti

Del. Mary Ann Lisanti’s seat was empty during Thursday’s House Economic Matters Committee hearing. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

The House of Delegates will meet at 5:45 p.m. on Thursday for a censure vote against a Democratic lawmaker who apologized for using the N-word to describe a legislative district in Prince George’s County.

The House Democratic and Republican caucuses met in closed-door sessions midday Thursday, when lawmakers were notified about the forthcoming vote.

Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford), who uttered the offending word in an Annapolis bar last month, met with House leadership on Thursday morning, when she continued to resist calls for her resignation.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who left a House Democratic Caucus meeting through a back door, declined to comment. His office drafted the censure resolution that will be introduced Thursday evening. The move represents one of few that the speaker can unilaterally take to address the uproar over Lisanti’s actions. She is also expected to be removed from her assignment to the House Economic Matters Committee, where she was not present at the start of Thursday’s bill hearings.

Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, declined to comment upon leaving the caucus meeting Thursday afternoon. “I’ll speak later,” he said simply. Several other members of the Black Caucus declined to comment.

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the censure resolution will allow members to vote on the issue that has roiled the chamber since a Monday story was published in The Washington Post detailing the after-hours comment by Lisanti.

“I think given the impact this incident is having on our House, it’s important we try to move past it,” McIntosh said.

A current legislator, speaking on condition of anonymity, and a former lawmaker with direct knowledge of the situation, told Maryland Matters that the vote was necessitated by Lisanti’s refusal to step down. The vote “starts the countdown clock,” a source said. “She has until 5:30.”

Lawmakers and aides said they weren’t sure if Lisanti would be on the floor for the evening vote. If she is, the delegate will have the opportunity to defend herself before the votes are cast.

A censure is the second-highest formal reprimand in the Legislature. Typically, censure resolutions come to the floor from the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. If a speaker of the House has brought a censure of a member directly to the floor as Busch will on Thursday, it hasn’t been for decades, if ever.

The full text of the resolution wasn’t available Thursday afternoon, but it is expected to express disappointment over and disapproval of Lisanti’s comments.

Del. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore City) said “you’ll see the will of the body this evening from the floor,” referencing a potential censure vote.

“That will be the expression of where we are as a body. And I think that is important, because we all are individuals and we all have our different obligations to our constituencies. But this is an offense that is beyond any one of our feelings. It’s an offense to the body, so it will be handled as such.”

Smith called Lisanti’s comment “unacceptable.”

“She is going to have to look in the mirror after she’s been called upon by the full Democratic leadership and Republican leadership of her state, and also other civic and civil rights organizations, she’s going to decide if she wants to be a stateswoman or not.”

Lisanti offered apologies to the Legislative Black Caucus and Democratic Caucus earlier this week, but she has not spoken publicly outside of a written statement. Her apology to the caucus’ executive board was viewed as lacking sincerity and contrition; a later apology to the Democratic caucus was viewed as heartfelt, but lacking recognition of the gravity of her situation.

Busch stripped Lisanti of a subcommittee chairmanship earlier this week and announced that she had agreed to undergo sensitivity training.

But calls for Lisanti’s resignation started mounting on Wednesday, to include both state parties, the county executives of Harford and Prince George’s counties, the NAACP and other groups.

The Post reported Monday that Lisanti “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.’”

On Thursday afternoon, the door to Lisanti’s office in the House Office Building was locked. Her Twitter account had also been taken offline, but a Facebook page remained active, including a post with her written statement that had attracted nearly 700 comments.

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House Will Meet Thursday Evening to Vote on Censuring Lisanti