Four weeks into his tenure as ex officio mayor of Baltimore, Bernard C. “Jack” Young has steadfastly refused to join a chorus of calls for Catherine Pugh to resign following her “Healthy Holly” scandal resulting from Pugh selling of hundreds of thousands of children’s books to politically connected businesses, nonprofits and others.
But today on the air during “Midday” with Tom Hall on WYPR-FM, Young let slip that he’d really prefer she just step down as she simultaneously recovers from pneumonia.
Shortly before the 30-minute mark, Hall asked Young if Pugh could conceivably come back to City Hall amid the fallout from her scandal.
“There’s nothing to preclude her from returning back to work,” Young replied, stating a fact.
“What would that look like if she were to return back to work?” Hall continued.
“I really don’t know,” Young responded with a laugh. “I would hate to see it.”
Young stopped short of calling for Pugh, 69, to step down, noting, “that’s self-serving for me to even mention that. I’m wishing the mayor well, and hope that she has a speedy recovery and gives us some kind of idea if she’s coming or if she’s not coming back.”
Young’s words were the furthest he’s gone publicly in pushing for Pugh’s resignation. All 14 members of the Baltimore City Council wrote to Pugh on April 8 requesting that she step down “effective immediately.” The city’s House delegation, 16 lawmakers in all, added to the call one day later with a similar message. And three days thereafter, the Greater Baltimore Committee’s board of directors, comprised of 64 local power players in business, religious and other organizations (some of them Pugh allies), issued a similar unanimous call.
Pugh has defied them, however, saying through a spokesman that she plans to return once she’s completed her recovery. She was hospitalized in late March with pneumonia, and for the last month her camp has said she is still recovering.
“I haven’t spoken to her, I think, in almost two and a half weeks,” Young told Hall today.
“I have no idea other than what I read in the paper–that she’s still battling pneumonia, and she’s trying to get her health in order. That’s all I know.”
Amid her paid leave, Young has suspended six Pugh staffers (also with pay), declining to say why other than that it’s a personnel matter.
Baltimore’s Ethics Board and Office of the Inspector General have launched investigations into her conduct as a member of the Board of Estimates, which approves spending decisions for the city every week. The Office of the State Prosecutor is also investigating Pugh’s book deals, worth close to $800,000 in total, at Gov. Larry Hogan’s behest.
Reporters have uncovered that Pugh sold copies of her “Healthy Holly” books to companies and organizations for whom she later voted to approve city contracts, including Kaiser Permanente, the city’s main municipal health insurer, and Associated Black Charities, which received more than $1 million to steward the Youth Fund initiative.
Since Pugh can’t be removed from office under state law unless convicted of a crime and fired by the governor, council members now sit waiting idly for her to make a move. “There is no other avenue right now,” Councilman Brandon Scott (2nd District) told Baltimore Fishbowl April 9.
Council members have said they’re working on legislation to change that policy, but it would take awhile. Members would first need to pass a bill to amend the city charter to allow for the removal of a mayor from office—and thereafter, voters would still need to approve that change in a ballot referendum that, at the earliest, would come during the November 2020 election.
Pugh’s team did not respond to an email Monday asking for a timetable of when she plans to return.
Today, Hall asked Young how it would work if Pugh did in fact did do just that, or if he thinks she might resign.
“I have no idea,” Young said before referencing the wave of calls for her to step down. “But it’s her personal decision. And because there’s no mechanism—I’ll keep repeating that—to remove a mayor, it could be indefinite.”