Fallout Over Lisanti Slur Lingers as Harford Co. Dems Oust Party Chair

Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford) speaks to reporters moments after being censured by her House colleagues last year. File photo

Almost 11 months after Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford) was censured by her House colleagues for uttering a racial epithet, the incident continues to reverberate on her home turf.

Earlier this month, the Harford County Democratic Central Committee voted to remove party Chairwoman Denise Perry from office at a special meeting after months of conflict between members — some of it related to the Lisanti incident.

Perry’s removal is the culmination of longstanding personality clashes within the committee. Members, who are elected to serve four years terms, have become accustomed to personal disputes and strained communication — exacerbated, according to people on the committee and other Democratic leaders, by racial tensions.

Perry was ousted by a vote of 6-2 — but those in favor of her removal offered different reasons for siding against the party leader.

Denise Perry

Former state legislator Barbara Osborne Kreamer made the motion to remove Perry, which was seconded by Aberdeen City Councilman and committee member Adam Hiob. The motion stated that the chairwoman had “either knowingly or unknowingly contributed to complete disharmony and frustration on the part of members, party activists and elected officials.”

Hiob said the Perry lost the support and patience of the her fellow central committee members in June 2019 when she failed to provide the community with adequate notice of a vacancy on the committee left by the resignation of former member Donna Kahoe. Hiob said Perry did not act on the vacancy until 41 days after she was notified of Kahoe’s resignation, and as a result, the committee did not give
potential applicants 14 days to apply before the deadline as mandated by the Maryland Democratic Party.

In his motion to remove Perry, Hiob said “generally speaking, the Chair has struggled to provide clear and consistent communication and goals with most members of the HCDCC. Most messages, texts, and calls are not responded to in a timely manner or ever. When other
members suggest ideas or if the Chair asks for information, things aren’t normally followed through.”

Hiob alleged that Perry’s performance in office directly contributed to the resignation of three members of the committee within the first year of their term. In 2019, committee members Kahoe, Hailey Crockett and Mike Bracknell resigned. But Bracknell disputed Hiob’s claim in a statement to Maryland Matters, saying no individual person or occurrence spurred his resignation.

Perry has been a member of the central committee since 2017 and was elected chair by fellow committee members in 2018. She is currently serving as the first female State
Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of Maryland.

Those in favor of her removal from office at the Jan. 9 meeting were Hiob, Vice Chair Carole Bruce, Treasurer Stephen Puopolo, Secretary Suzanne Oshinsky, Chris Boardman and Kreamer. Those opposed were Rev. Cordell Hunter and Jowanda Strickland Lucas. The committee also has four non-voting associate members, three of whom were present at the meeting and expressed their opposition to the chair’s removal.

Those in support of Perry alleged that some members of the committee have ulterior motives for ousting the chair, including retaliation for Perry’s recommendation that Lisanti resign following the lawmaker’s use of a racial slur last year to describe a legislative district in Prince George’s County to fellow legislators at an Annapolis bar.

“To blame the current chair for the issues that have been ongoing and continuous is disingenuous. In this committee…there have been complaints against every member here, and y’all are still allowed to be sitting,”  Strickland Lucas said in defense of Perry at the Jan. 9 meeting. “To go this far again, what is the ulterior motive? The chair has been blocked with obstacles from the moment that she signed the statement against Del. Mary Ann
Lisanti.”

Hiob said Perry’s statement urging Lisanti to resign had nothing to do with the committee’s decision to remove her, though he acknowledged that “one or two committee members may have some other additional reasons they might choose to partake in this removal of the chair.”

All but two members of the central committee voted to adopt Perry’s statement recommending Lisanti’s resignation in March 2019. Kreamer, who served in the House of Delegates from 1983 to 1991, voted against calling for Lisanti’s resignation and Hiob, a former legislative aide for Lisanti, abstained from voting.

Perry conducted a vote by telephone on the Lisanti matter with each member individually, which Kreamer believes was a violation of committee bylaws.

Kreamer, who also served on the Harford County Council and is a longtime member of the county Democratic Central Committee, wrote the petition to remove Perry from office that was submitted to the Maryland Democratic Party. In her complaint she references a meeting on June 27, 2019, where Strickland Lucas, a staunch advocate for Perry and longtime member of the central committee, called the police on Kreamer in an attempt to have her removed from the meeting. This was the same meeting at which the committee filled the vacancy left by Kahoe.

Kreamer said Perry has “condoned the disruptive overtures of Jowanda Strickland Lucas, whom Perry appointed as political director, and has not called her out of order when she unjustly and without provocation called law enforcement to prevent member Barbara Osborn Kreamer from voting on an appointment to fill a vacancy on the committee.”

Hiob said the dramatic display at the June meeting was the culmination of years of ongoing back and forth between Kreamer and Strickland Lucas in which both women have made attempts to antagonize one another.

“This is a situation where people are being slandered and libeled,” Strickland Lucas said. “The issues with
the HCDCC existed long before Denise Perry came on, and the chairs have always had a problem dealing with the committee. This is not anything that is new.”

The Maryland Democratic Party held a hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 14, for those in favor of Perry’s removal from the committee entirely to relay their complaints to the state party credentials committee.

The state party’s credentials committee, chaired by state Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), the party vice chairman, has until Jan. 24 to decide whether Perry will remain on the central committee.