Posted on April 2, 2019

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh Takes Leave of Absence amid Scandal

Rachel Chasen, Washington Post, April 1, 2019

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh is taking an indefinite leave of absence amid growing condemnation of profits she made from selling a children’s book to businesses intertwined with the government she oversees.

Pugh spokesman James E. Bentley II said in a statement that Pugh (D) has been battling pneumonia and has been advised by her physicians that she “needs to take time to recover and focus on her health.” He made no mention of the controversies swirling around Pugh, who planned to step down Monday night at midnight.

The mayor’s leave comes as Baltimore has been convulsing under a surge of violence that officials, including Pugh, have struggled to address. Homicides have topped 300 for four straight years, even as homicide arrest rates have plummeted, and there have been five police commissioners in as many years.

The Baltimore Sun reported Monday that Kaiser Permanente paid Pugh more than $100,000 for copies of her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s book at the same time it was seeking a $48 million contract from a city board controlled by the mayor.


The Kaiser Permanente deal comes on top of reporting by the Sun two weeks ago that Pugh was paid $500,000 by the University of Maryland Medical System for her “Healthy Holly” books beginning in 2011, when she was a state senator who served on a committee that partially funded the hospital network.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday called for an investigation into the UMMS deal by the state prosecutor.


The acting mayor will be Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D), a Baltimore native who has been a fixture of city politics for more than two decades. {snip}

Pugh, 69, is the second Baltimore mayor in the past decade to navigate a corruption scandal; Democrat Sheila Dixon resigned from office in 2010 after being convicted of embezzlement. Pugh narrowly defeated Dixon in the Democratic primary in 2016.


Kaiser paid $114,000, from 2015 until 2018, to Pugh’s Healthy Holly LLC for 20,000 copies of her books, which are intended to promote exercise and healthy eating among children, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Kaiser won a $48 million contract from the city’s spending board, which Pugh controls, in 2017.


Pugh sat on the board of the medical system for 18 years until she resigned from that position two weeks ago, after the Sun reported her book deal. Under the no-bid deal, the medical system bought 100,000 books at $5 each, according to the Sun. Pugh did not report the earnings on required financial disclosure forms. She amended the forms after the deal was revealed.


Pugh called the deals with UMMS a “regrettable mistake” at a news conference last week. She returned $100,000 for books that were not produced.

The mayor, who choked up at the news conference, said she never wanted to lose the trust of Baltimore residents or hurt the reputation of the University of Maryland Medical System. She told reporters that she was speaking to them “against my doctor’s orders.”


Monday marked a shift in the scandal, with Pugh for the first time facing rebukes from a range of political leaders.