Bernard C. “Jack” Young intends to be a “stabilizing force” as ex-officio mayor of Baltimore in Catherine Pugh’s indefinite absence, he said at a press conference at City Hall today.
“The city of Baltimore is stable moving forward, and the work is just beginning,” the newly appointed acting mayor said, flanked by city agency directors and lawmakers. “I’m anxious to start, and I’m anxious to work with my council colleagues.”
Young stepped into the top executive position at midnight last night. Hours earlier, Pugh’s office announced she’d be taking an indefinite leave to recover from pneumonia. While her announcement made no mention of that morning’s news headlines, hours earlier The Baltimore Sun revealed Pugh had accepted $114,000 for 20,000 copies of her self-published “Healthy Holly” books from Kaiser Permanente, and had cast a vote at the time as a member of the Board of Estimates to make the company the city’s health insurer.
Pugh also struck a $14,500 deal with CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield for 2,000 “Healthy Holly” copies, and the nonprofit Associated Black Charities said later on Monday that it also purchased more than $87,000 worth of the books. That all piles on top of the $500,000 deal for 100,000 books that Pugh arranged with the University of Maryland Medical System board on which she had served as an unpaid board member since 2001.
The Sun also reported today that Pugh was taking payments as she was casting votes as a state senator, before she was elected mayor, to help hospitals, including by making it more difficult for patients to sue for large sums for alleged malpractice.
In a political shuffling that follows City Charter rules, Young, who’s been president of the Baltimore City Council since 2010, has now replaced Pugh, and Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton has moved up to ex-officio president of the council.
Young offered additional well-wishes to Pugh today, saying he spoke with her briefly on Monday. “She really didn’t sound good at all.”
He also noted he doesn’t plan to run for mayor in 2020.
He pressed forward, saying he’d met with the heads of assorted city agencies just this morning to make sure things keep running smoothly. “We’re gonna keep this city moving and we’re gonna get things done.”
Young’s first official presser as acting mayor came after he met with members of Baltimore’s delegation in Annapolis this morning.
Two city council members, Zeke Cohen and Ryan Dorsey, have said Pugh should resign outright. Others, like Brandon Scott and Shannon Sneed, stopped short of that, but called for more accountability and endorsed investigations of the mayor’s past business dealings that now appear to have posed conflicts of interest. Just yesterday, Gov. Larry Hogan asked the state prosecutor to probe Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” deals.
Speaking with Baltimore Fishbowl afterward, District 7 Councilman Leon Pinkett also said the city needs a “proper investigation” led by the Office of the Inspector General, headed by Isabel Mercedes Cumming. “The news that’s come out, and continues to come out on an almost daily basis, is troubling to say the least,” he said.
Dorsey said afterward that he’s also asking the OIG to look into the city’s deal with Kaiser Permanente.
I have requested an investigation and information regarding Kaiser Permanente’s contract with the City.
We deserve to know that our contracts are the best they can be, and that if anything untoward were to come to light that families will not lose health coverage. pic.twitter.com/kVP5yRFNVM
— Ryan Dorsey (@ElectRyanDorsey) April 2, 2019
Pinkett didn’t echo Cohen and Dorsey’s resignation demands, but did say, “I hope that everyone, including the mayor, makes a decision in a short period of time that puts the interests of the city first and foremost, and during a time when people are discouraged and frustrated, and quite frankly are losing trust in elected officials.”
Scott preached the need for persistent attention to what he said is far more pressing issue than corruption and children’s books: violent crime.
Scott helms the Public Safety Committee, which is holding hearings today with the Baltimore police and fire departments concerning violence reduction and fire safety, respectively. He pointed out that these meetings are a monthly occurrence, and said Baltimoreans should know those issues are paramount to the ongoing scandal.
“The issues that Mayor Pugh is having can cause some distraction,” he said. “Some people”—not his council colleagues, he emphasized—”have not been paying attention to the violence… Right now the focus is to make sure the city government remains focused on the most important issues in the city, and there is none more important than the violence in Baltimore.”
Young, meanwhile, is already stepping into his mayoral duties, with plans to appear in the mayor’s place for press events this week.
Asked how he will stay on top of everything—one media member noted the ongoing budget discussions and the struggle in Annapolis to keep the Preakness at Pimlico as pressing concerns—he cited his experience juggling many tasks as council president.
“I have dealt with many pressing issues throughout my career, and you have to learn how to multitask and be able to trust your people who surround you, your department heads and my council people,” he said. “This is a partnership—it’s not just about Jack Young, it’s about all of us. Because we all live in this city and we all want to keep this city moving.”
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