Baltimore City Council asks Pugh to resign; mayor says she intends to return

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Photo via Baltimore City Council website

Two days after Mayor Catherine Pugh said she is planning a comeback even as her self-dealing children’s book scandal has ballooned, all members of the Baltimore City Council have called on her to resign.

Fourteen city lawmakers signed and shared a straight-to-the-point memo to Pugh this morning, asking her call it quits instead of returning to City Hall.

“The entire membership of the Baltimore City Council believes that it is not in the best interest of the City of Baltimore, for you to continue to serve as Mayor,” the letter reads. “We urge you to tender your resignation, effective immediately.”

In an apparent response, Pugh released a statement today saying she “fully intends to resume the duties of her office and continuing her work on behalf of the people and the City of Baltimore.”

Relations between local lawmakers and Pugh have clearly soured from last week, when only council members Ryan Dorsey and Zeke Cohen went so far as to ask Pugh to step down amid the fallout from the ongoing “Healthy Holly” scandal. Others called for state and city investigation and expressed concerns about Pugh’s book deals with healthcare organizations, but stopped short of asking her to depart city government.

Pugh stepped aside for Bernard C. “Jack” Young to take over as acting mayor last Monday, saying she would take an indefinite absence as she recovered from a bout of pneumonia that began after news of her scandal broke. But on Saturday, her spokesman James Bentley told The Sun, “She’s working to get better so she can come back. That is the goal. She is working to get back.”

Lawmakers changed their tone by this morning, from well-wishes to a collective call for her seat.

“Baltimore will continue to have a cloud over its head while the investigations into Mayor Pugh’s business dealings go on,” said Councilman Brandon Scott, 2nd District, in a statement. “These issues are extremely severe and prohibit the Mayor from focusing on the business of Baltimore… Baltimore deserves a Mayor who can focus on reducing crime, improving our schools and restoring trust in our government.”

“This unprecedented step has not been taken lightly,” said Councilman Eric Costello, 11th District. “While I fully support the notion of ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ I remain deeply concerned about the immeasurable toll this scandal has taken on the City of Baltimore and its citizens. Resignation will not solve every problem but Baltimore needs to heal, once again, and it cannot do so until the Mayor steps aside.”

Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer lamented via Twitter, “It is a shame that it has come to this but the Mayor can no longer govern effectively.”

In a statement provided to Baltimore Fishbowl Monday afternoon, Young said he learned of the council’s collective to ask Pugh to resign on Saturday night, “and it quickly became clear to me that the caucus was unanimously set on moving forward.”

He declined, however, to join them today.

“I understand their frustrations. My duties remain clear as ever. As long as Mayor Pugh is out on an extended leave of absence, my job of stabilizing City government and of ensuring the continued deliverance of essential City services continues. I am focused like a laser on the City of Baltimore.”

At his first official press conference last week, he said he’d spoken to Pugh and wished her well, but assured, “We’re gonna keep this city moving and we’re gonna get things done” in her absence.

Pugh’s dealings are under city scrutiny and a state investigation requested by Gov. Larry Hogan. In the last week, income for her self-published “Healthy Holly” books last week has grown from $500,000, paid by the University of Maryland Medical System while she was serving as an unpaid board member, to nearly $800,000.

Some of those additional payments came from Kaiser Permanente and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield as the city was soliciting bids for new municipal health insurance plans—Kaiser, which paid $100,000, was ultimately given a renewed contract with Pugh participating in the vote in 2017—and others came from the Maryland Auto Insurance Fund, Associated Black Charities and a businessman behind a company that was awarded a lucrative conduit construction contract.

When the tally was still only $500,000, Pugh apologized for the negative attention the scandal brought to Baltimore, albeit while defending “Healthy Holly” as a solid educational tool for local children. (Days earlier, she’d called the slew of reporting on the matter a “witch hunt.”)

A choked up Pugh told media in late March, before taking her leave, that her children’s books “certainly seemed like an ideal way to combine focus and forces to bring a positive influence to those who need it the most.”

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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