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Best Week, Worst Week: Jones makes history; Pugh’s tenure ends

best-worst-050419This week saw the beginning of new political chapter for Del. Adrienne Jones and the end of one for former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.

Government affairs writer Bryan P. Sears reported Wednesday the Baltimore County Democrat emerged from the caucus room after five hours of internal party wrangling with unanimous support of her party to become the next speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. A compromise choice, Jones nonetheless had made history in becoming the first African American and the first woman to be the leader of the House.

Jones emerged as a consensus choice, ultimately recommended by front-runners Dels. Dereck Davis and Maggie McIntosh, after five hours of closed-door meetings by a deeply divided 98-member House Democratic Caucus that featured multiple votes. Jones praised Davis and McIntosh, who nominated her on the floor, for putting the Democratic Party over their own personal goals.

Jones is not a stranger to the rostrum, having served as speaker pro tem since 2003. She becomes the first woman and first black speaker, a position that  means her portrait one day will hang on the wall of a chamber that is lined with official portraits of other leaders of the House — all white men.

The selection of Jones capped a contentious, nearly month-long battle that was more public than any selection of speaker in recent memory. It featured lobbying by outside groups; the head of the state Democratic Party threatened Democratic lawmakers with electoral retribution if they engaged in a floor fight.

Meanwhile, as Jones embarks on leading the Maryland House, Pugh gave in to mounting pressure to resign, ending her tenure as mayor of the state’s largest city amid amid multiple investigations into whether the hundreds of thousands of dollars she pocketed in book sales were linked to her jobs in public office.

Business writer Adam Bednar reported Thursday that Pugh, still battling the effects of a case of pneumonia, had her lawyer submit her letter of resignation to the City Council and did not attend the news conference announcing the move.

In her statement addressed to Baltimore citizens, the 69-year-old Pugh called her time in office an honor and a privilege and apologized for the harm the scandals had on the image of the city.

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.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, whom Pugh served as a lieutenant when she was majority leader, called it a sad day, gave new Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young his best wishes and hoped the city could move forward. Donald C. Fry, CEO of the regional business advocacy group Greater Baltimore Committee, said Pugh’s resignation was in the city’s best interest and gives Baltimore the opportunity to move forward without the distraction of ongoing investigations and speculation as to leadership in City Hall.

As Pugh ended her 29-month tenure as Baltimore mayor under the cloud of multiple investigations, her legacy will likely be an inability to make a dent in surging crime rates.

Her achievements included some forays into redeveloping west Baltimore, the creation of an affordable housing trust fund and free Baltimore City Community College tuition for city school graduates.