A few days after city council members and state lawmakers publicly urged Mayor Catherine Pugh to resign, an organization made up of prominent businesspeople, religious leaders and others from around Baltimore has joined the call.
The Greater Baltimore Committee announced this afternoon that its board of directors has voted to ask Pugh to make an exit from city government.
“This was a difficult decision requiring a great deal of thought, but the GBC believes the Mayor can no longer provide the leadership and effective government that Baltimore needs and deserves at this time,” Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the GBC, said in a statement. “The GBC Board determined that it is necessary for Mayor Pugh to resign so the city can move on, heal and leverage the many positive assets it has going for it.”
The group also put out a lengthier, collective statement after its monthly board meeting this morning.
“Baltimore City has too many pressing issues that must be addressed to be distracted by controversies that threaten the public’s trust in government,” it reads. “Baltimore needs a strong Mayor who is laser-focused on the needs of the city, its residents, and businesses and can lead the city forward. Trusted leadership is an essential quality of an effective mayor.
“Unfortunately, the recent revelations surrounding Mayor Pugh have undermined her moral authority to be that leader. With deep regret, the Greater Baltimore Committee has concluded that under the present and extraordinary circumstances it is in the best interest of the City of Baltimore and its citizens that Mayor Catherine Pugh tender her resignation as Mayor.”
Among the board’s 64 members: Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, Baltimore Sun publisher and editor-in-chief Trif Alatzas, Cordish Companies chairman David Cordish, former Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Johns Hopkins University president Ron Daniels, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori and Jon Laria, a managing partner of the law firm Ballard Spahr LLP who’s also served on Pugh’s transition team and various committees of hers.
Pugh took an indefinite leave of absence on April 1, saying she needed to recover from a case of pneumonia that began amid the fallout of her nationally infamous “Healthy Holly” children’s book scandal.
The Sun first reported March 13 that Pugh was among a group of unpaid University of Maryland Medical System board members who’d cut side deals with the hospital system by drawing up private contracts worth millions of dollars combined.
Pugh’s was for $500,000 for 100,000 copies of her self-published children’s books, which she said she distributed through City Schools and daycare centers. The mayor defended the transaction by saying she reported the income, and said the books were useful for helping promote active lifestyles and healthy choices for children—albeit while she was also pushing legislation to help UMMS during her years as a state senator—and decried media coverage of the ordeal as a “witch hunt.”
She later apologized, but the scandal has since deepened. The total of known payments that Pugh’s Healthy Holly LLC has accepted has since ballooned to nearly $800,000, as outlets have reported that health insurance companies and others also paid Pugh for books.
Pugh is now under multiple city investigations concerning her voting for contracts for some of those companies while sitting on the Board of Estimates, as well as a separate state investigation called for by Gov. Larry Hogan.
The GBC said in its statement that “the rationale for this decision is entirely based on the magnitude of the allegations, the multiple investigations that will detract from the operation of city business and the personal circumstances surrounding the Mayor that have compromised her trust with the public and elected officials rendering it impossible for her to govern and to provide the strong, trusted leadership that is desperately needed in Baltimore.”
Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who’s served as Baltimore City Council president since 2010, took over as acting mayor the same day Pugh announced her leave, and has already begun to shape his technically still-temporary administration in Pugh’s absence.
Young has declined to join the mass call for Pugh’s resignation from his 14 council colleagues, saying in a statement earlier this week, “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.”
Pugh cannot be removed from office, members have noted, meaning they must wait for her to step down unless she’s convicted of a criminal charge and then removed by the governor.
The GBC said its board vote was unanimous, though it did not include directors who have been named in news coverage of the scandal. We’ve reached out to confirm who those members are.
GBC vice president of communications, Mark Guidera, said in an email that those included Dianne Bell-McCoy, president and CEO of Associated Black Charities, which orchestrated donations of nearly $80,000 for Pugh’s LLC; August Chiasera, a regional president for M&T Bank who also served on the UMMS board, and has since taken a leave of absence; and Francis Kelly III, CEO of Kelly & Associates Insurance Group, which also had millions of dollars worth of contracts with UMMS.
The group also included Robert Chrencik, who presided over UMMS as nine directors cut side deals with the organization. He’s no longer a member of the GBC board, as he’s also on leave from UMMS.