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Bowing to pressure and investigations, Baltimore Mayor Pugh quits

FILE - In this June 8, 2018 file photo, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh addresses a gathering during the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Boston. Baltimore’s acting leader has ordered an audit of a local nonprofit’s management of a $12 million youth fund after the organization was tied to the purchase and distribution of a portion of embattled Mayor Catherine Pugh’s hard-to-find illustrated books for children. The audit of Associated Black Charities’ work and a freeze of legislation that would renew its management of the taxpayer-financed fund comes as the first-term mayor is embroiled in an image-tarnishing scandal that threatens her political career. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

FILE – In this June 8, 2018 file photo, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh addresses a gathering during the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Boston. Baltimore’s acting leader has ordered an audit of a local nonprofit’s management of a $12 million youth fund after the organization was tied to the purchase and distribution of a portion of embattled Mayor Catherine Pugh’s hard-to-find illustrated books for children. The audit of Associated Black Charities’ work and a freeze of legislation that would renew its management of the taxpayer-financed fund comes as the first-term mayor is embroiled in an image-tarnishing scandal that threatens her political career. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has resigned, capping weeks of turmoil in City Hall and amid multiple investigations into whether the hundreds of thousands of dollars she pocketed in book sales were linked to her jobs in public office.

Her attorney, Steven Silverman, made the announcement during a news conference at his firm’s downtown offices on Thursday. Pugh is the second mayor to be forced out of office by an ethics scandal since 2010.

“This is a sad day for Mayor Pugh and a sad day for the city of Baltimore,” Silverman said before reading a statement from Pugh, who submitted her letter of resignation to the City Council. She did not attend the news conference.

In her statement addressed to the “citizens of the city,” she thanked residents for allowing her to serve as the 50th mayor of Baltimore. Pugh, 69, called her time in office an honor and a privilege.

“I am sorry for the harm that I’ve 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,” according to the statement read by Silverman.

A copy of the letter provided to the reporters simply reads: “In the best interest of the people and government of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, I am writing to attest that, effective immediately, I hereby resign from the Office of Mayor, to which I was duly elected on November 8, 2016. I am confident I have left the city in capable hands for the duration of the term to which I was elected.”

Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who has been running the city as ex officio mayor in Pugh’s absence, takes over as mayor immediately. Young is in Detroit on a previously scheduled trip but does not need to be sworn into office.

“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. Charm City is wonderful and is full of resilient people who are working hard every day to move our City forward,” Young said in a statement.

City Solicitor Andre M. Davis said Pugh’s resignation became effective immediately upon his acceptance on Young’s behalf. Calling it a “bittersweet day for Baltimore,” Davis said it is good to remove the “cloud of instability over city leadership.”

Attorney, Steven Silverman, of Silverman Thompson Slutkin & White announces Mayor Catherine Pugh’s resignation on Thursday. (THe Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Attorney, Steven Silverman, of Silverman Thompson Slutkin & White announces Mayor Catherine Pugh’s resignation on Thursday. (THe Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

“Clearly, today, she has done the right thing,” said Davis, who confirmed he drafted the letter of resignation submitted today. “Some people think it was a long time coming, and I suppose in a sense it was, but on the other hand, sometimes we have difficulty facing what is in front of us in our lives, and she has succeeded today in doing what she needed to do for the benefit of the city and its people, and we should all appreciate that.”

Pugh hired Davis, a former federal appellate judge, to run the Baltimore City Law Department in 2017, and Davis became emotional speaking about their time in government together.

“I have to say, though, that in the 18 months that I had to work closely with Catherine Pugh, I saw a woman, a politician, an elected official, who was absolutely dedicated to the city, to its people, to lifting up the vulnerable, and I’m very sad,” he said.

The reaction from political and business leaders in the city and state Thursday was one of relief. Pugh had been under intense pressure for several weeks to resign. What political support she once enjoyed had evaporated.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who enjoyed a warm relationship with Pugh despite belonging to opposing political parties, issued a statement that the city could “move forward” following the resignation.

“This was the right decision, as it was clear the mayor could no longer lead effectively. The federal and state investigations must and will continue to uncover the facts,” Hogan said.

Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, whom Pugh served as a lieutenant when she was majority leader in the Senate, also sent a short statement.

“Today is a sad day for Baltimore. I wish Mayor Young best wishes in his leadership of the City, and hope Baltimore can continue to move forward,” Miller said.

Donald Fry, CEO of regional business advocacy group Greater Baltimore Committee, also weighed in the Pugh’s resignation and said it was in the city’s best interest.

“Her resignation provides Baltimore the opportunity to move forward without the distraction of the on-going investigations and speculation as to leadership in City Hall,” Fry said.

Pugh’s troubles started in March when it was reported she’d accepted nearly $500,000 dollars from the University of Maryland Medical System for her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books. Pugh, who served on the UMMS board, was a state senator and mayor at the time of the payments. As a state lawmaker, she had pushed for legislation that would benefit the medical system.

Pugh was one of nine members of the UMMS board who received, either individually or through their businesses, some sort of financial compensation from the system. Pugh resigned from the UMMS board, as did two other members. Four others took leaves of absence. The UMMS CEO also resigned.

It was later revealed that Pugh had accepted payments from Kaiser Permanent and Associated Black Charities for books while she was mayor. Both entities had business with the city at the time. Their payments, and others, pushed the total Pugh received for the book to more than $800,000.

IRS and FBI agents load boxes of items carried from the home of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh on Thursday. (The Daily Record / Tim Curtis)

IRS and FBI agents load boxes of items carried from the home of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh on April 25. (The Daily Record / Tim Curtis)

Pugh, who was hospitalized in March with pneumonia, held a press conference on March 28 at City Hall. During the conference she displayed shipping orders for the book, early designs for a Helathy Holly line of baby clothes, and in a weak voice apologized for the appearance of impropriety.

“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. … I also want to make it very clear I never intended to do anything that could not stand up to scrutiny,” Pugh said.

She then took a leave of absence on April 1, and wasn’t seen in public for weeks. City Council members called for Baltimore’s inspector general to investigate contracts awarded during Pugh’s tenure. Gov. Larry Hogan also called for the state prosecutor to investigate.

Eventually 14 of the 15 City Council members sent a letter calling for her resignation. The city’s contingent on the House of Delegates and the business advocacy group the Greater Baltimore Committee also called on Pugh to resign.

After being out of town for an unknown amount of time Pugh returned to Baltimore the night of April 24, according to sources. The next day, the FBI and IRS searched her two west Baltimore homes and City Hall offices, among other places.

Pugh had vowed, in the early stages of the scandal, to remain in office once her health improved. But that defiance faded as a federal grand jury issued a subpoena to UMMS for records pertaining to Pugh’s book sales and federal agents fanned across the city.

On that day Silverman met with Pugh and said she was in no shape to make a decision on her future. He described her as distraught and seriously ill and said she was struggling to be lucid.

 


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