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Pugh takes leave of absence as controversy mounts

ANNAPOLIS — Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is taking an indefinite leave of absence starting Tuesday to recover from pneumonia, according to an announcement Monday from her office. She is stepping down amidst a controversy over her financial dealings revolving around her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s book series.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, as mandated in the city charter, takes over as acting mayor at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, his office announced Monday afternoon. He will spend his first day in his new role attending internal meetings and public events, according to his office.

In a statement issued Monday, Young described himself as “utterly heartbroken by the developments that have unfolded over the past several weeks” and said he was praying for Pugh to recover from her illness.

“Lastly, I understand how traumatizing this has all been for the people of Baltimore. I take my responsibilities seriously and look forward to serving as a stabilizing force,” Young said.

Earlier Monday, The Baltimore Sun reported that Kaiser Permanente confirmed it had paid about $114,000 for the “Healthy Holly” books from 2015 to 2018, a period in which the company was seeking a contract to provide health benefits to city employees. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc. won a $48 million contract, which was approved by the city’s spending board, on which Pugh sits and which she controlled as mayor, The Baltimore Sun reported Monday.

Before the latest revelations, Pugh was under fire for accepting a $500,000 deal to sell the books to the University of Maryland Medical System, on whose board of directors she sat until stepping down last month amid an outcry over self-dealing by board members. The book sale began in 2011; some of the books were to be distributed to the Baltimore City public schools.

Comptroller Peter Franchot on Monday called for Pugh to resign in a social media post, in which he linked to an article about the Kaiser book purchase.

“The Mayor has to resign — now. The people of Baltimore are facing too many serious challenges, as it is, to also to deal with such brazen, cartoonish corruption from their chief executive,” the message above the post reads.

Baltimore Councilman Zeke Cohen also took to social media, posting on Facebook that he hopes Pugh recovers quickly but saying that she should leave

“I believe she should fully resign from office,” Cohen wrote. “Mayor Pugh has lost the moral mandate to govern and the public’s trust. Baltimore deserves better. Our city deserves to trust that our elected officials are acting ethically and in the interest of those they serve at every level.”

Pugh’s leave comes just as Gov. Larry Hogan made public a letter to State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt. In the letter released Monday, Hogan called for an investigation into the no-contract deal between the University of Maryland Medical System and Pugh.

Hogan’s letter to Davitt comes roughly a week after a former investigator for the state prosecutor made a similar request.

“These are deeply disturbing allegations,” Hogan wrote. “I am particularly concerned about the UMMS sale because it has significant and continuing ties with the state and receives very substantial public funding.”

In Annapolis, a preliminary vote is scheduled Monday night on legislation that would bar elected officials from serving on the board and prohibit board members from financially benefiting from contracts with the medical system. The vote puts the legislation, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Busch, on track to be in the Senate by Wednesday.

Busch has served on the UMMS board for 16 years.

The General Assembly session ends April 8.

Pugh, recovering from pneumonia, met with reporters last week.

The mayor told reporters she had no contract with the medical system. She also showed reporters a line of children’s clothing based on the “Healthy Holly” book series, which she said she was developing.

“I understand the objections and some of the concerns of many over my decision to enter into a financial relationship with the University of Maryland Medical System … and I sincerely want to say that I apologize that I’ve done something to upset … the people of Baltimore,” Pugh said, adding, “I also want to make it very clear I never intended to do anything that could not stand up to scrutiny.”

The mayor took no questions following her statement.

“All Marylanders have an expectation that their public officials as well as individuals involved with institutions that are funded by and closely related to the state, will follow the highest legal and ethical standards,” Hogan wrote in his letter to the state prosecutor. “I understand and expect that you will fully investigate the matters that have been reported and that you will take all appropriate legal action in the event that your investigation uncovers any criminal wrongdoing.”


Daily Record reporter Adam Bednar contributed to this story.

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