Weeks after she was accused of self-dealing, a month after she took a paid leave of absence for her health and just days after FBI and IRS raids, Catherine Pugh has resigned as mayor of Baltimore.
Speaking at a press conference in his downtown Baltimore office, her lawyer Steven Silverman read statement from Pugh. The 96-second long resignation letter read in part:
“I'm sorry for the harm that I have caused to the image of the city of Baltimore and the credibility of the office of the mayor. Baltimore deserves a mayor who can move our great city forward."
In her statement, Pugh thanked Jack Young for his "steadfast leadership in my absence."
"I am confident that I have left the city in capable hands for the duration of the term to which I was elected," her statement continued.
Pugh's resignation ends just over one month of uncertainty. The first-term Democrat, citing only a case of pneumonia, began indefinite paid leave April 1 as allegations of self-dealing and doing personal business with companies seeking to land lucrative contracts with the city swirled around her.
While city and state officials alike called for her resignation, Pugh insisted that she “fully” intended to return as mayor.
The FBI and IRS raided seven properties associated with Pugh last week, attracting national news coverage, frustration from Baltimoreans and renewed calls throughout the city and state for Pugh to resign.
All 14 City Council members signed a joint statement earlier this month demanding Pugh’s resignation, but under the city charter, a mayor can be forced from office if convicted of crime, as former mayor Shelia Dixon was in 2009.
Under the city charter, Jack Young, the city council president who has been acting mayor since Pugh took her leave of absence, becomes the official mayor immediately.
He said in a statement he has worked hard for the past month “to keep government’s focus on providing essential services to our citizens” and pledged to maintain the same focus.
“Although I understand that this ordeal has caused real pain for many Baltimoreans, I promise that we will emerge from it more committed than ever to building a stronger Baltimore,” he said.
Young has said previously he has no interest in running for mayor in 2020.
City Councilman Brandon Scott, who is seen as a potential mayoral candidate in 2020, issued a statement calling the day one of “relief and accountability for Baltimore.”
“Now the city can move forward with tackling the vast challenges facing Baltimore, including improving our schools and reducing crime,” he wrote in the statement. “I look forward to working with all of our local, state and federal leadership to get Baltimore back on track.”
Governor Larry Hogan, who joined the chorus of state and city officials calling for Pugh’s resignation last month, issued a statement saying she had made “the right decision, as it was clear the mayor could no longer lead effectively.”
He said the ongoing investigations by federal authorities and the state prosecutor “must and will continue to uncover the facts,” and pledged the state’s “full support to incoming Mayor Jack Young and to city leaders during this time of transition.”
"My hope, and I suspect the hope of many others in City Hall," said Councilman Bill Henry, "is that now that the Catherine Pugh has resigned and Jack Young is just mayor. no ex officio, no acting, we can get on with restoring the leadership pipeline."
The council will have to elect a new city council president to serve in Young's stead. Afterwards, "we will just continue the business of running Baltimore City," Henry said.
"But hopefully people will start paying attention to the other issues again, now that this one is behind us," he added.
Councilman Kristerfer Burnett agreed. Spending time and energy in efforts outside of Pugh is overdue, "especially when people know we have … I think ninety two murders ninety one murders right now, even more opioid deaths every day," he said. "And just real real challenges systemic challenges that we should be focused on and that people expect us to be focused on." (As of Friday morning, one day after Burnett made his comments, the city is at 93 homicides for the year.)
The Baltimore Sun first brought Pugh’s self-dealings to light in a report published March 13. It detailed a $100,000 children’s book sale with the University of Maryland Medical system — a hospital network where she had been serving as a board member since she was a Maryland state senator.
Over a period of a few years, and into her tenure as mayor, Pugh made a total of five no-bid contract book deals with UMMS. Each deal exchanged 20,000 copies of her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books for $100,000. The Sun, WYPR and other publications and organizations throughout Baltimore have been unable to account for the distribution of a large majority of those books.
As details of Pugh’s UMMS deals came to light, other businesses and organizations came forward with their own arrangements with Pugh.
The healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente revealed it purchased more than $100,000 worth of “Healthy Holly” books while it was up for a $48 million contract with the city of Baltimore. It was later awarded that contract. Kaiser has said it distributed the roughly 20,000 books it purchased.
The prominent Baltimore nonprofit Associated Black Charities collected $87,000 through other organizations and used it to purchase books from 2011 to 2016. The nonprofit said it distributed 4,100 Healthy Holly books, discarded 400 water damaged books, and left 5,500 books for Healthy Holly LLC to distribute.
A Maryland businessman whose firm had Baltimore contracts also purchased “Healthy Holly” books. J.P. Grant told the Sun that his company paid $100,000 for books in 2016. Two years later, Pugh approved a contract with Grant’s company to finance capital projects.
Maryland’s Office of the State Prosecutor has been investigating Pugh’s "Healthy Holly" book sales since April 3. She has not been indicted.
Pugh first entered Baltimore politics as a City Council member in 1999. She was appointed to fill an empty seat in the House of Delegates in 2005 by then Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. Pugh won election to the Senate in 2006 and was appointed to the Finance Committee and sat on the Health subcommittee, where she sponsored legislation that would have benefitted UMMS. Those bills failed to pass.
Pugh also led the battle to diversify the $40 billion state pension portfolio by adding more black and minority businesses. During her time in the Senate, she served as chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and the Women’s Caucus. Pugh first ran for mayor in 2011, but lost to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. She won in 2016, after securing the most votes in a tight Democratic primary.
While running for the primary, Pugh touted her relationships with Baltimore’s business world as an asset: no candidate but her, she argued, could use business relationships to increase cash flow in a notoriously hurting-for-cash city.