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Baltimore Mayor Pugh resigns after month on leave amid investigation into her business deals

Baltimore Sun logoBaltimore Sun 5/2/2019 By Ian Duncan And Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

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BALTIMORE — Mayor Catherine E. Pugh resigned Thursday, a month after taking a medical leave amid a growing scandal over her sales of a self-published children’s book series, sources tell The Baltimore Sun.

Pugh submitted a letter of resignation dated Thursday. Her resignation is effective immediately, attorney Steven Silverman said at a news conference. She did not attend, and Silverman took no questions.

Pugh’s defiant pledge last month to return to work gave way after federal agents raided her home and City Hall office a week ago. She is expected to become the second Baltimore mayor in a decade to quit in the face of a criminal investigation.

Three sources familiar with the mayor’s plans tell The Sun her departure will be announced Thursday afternoon. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the mayor had not yet made her plans public.

Pugh’s attorney, Steven Silverman, has scheduled a news conference for 3:30 p.m. at his downtown office. Two of the sources said Pugh is not expected to attend.

Sources told The Sun on Wednesday that City Solicitor Andre Davis gave Silverman a draft of a resignation letter.

Her options included resigning immediately, leaving at a later date, remaining on leave or coming back to work.

Pugh, once seen as a cleaner option in a city with a history of wrongdoing by politicians, was ultimately overtaken by the public outcry over hundreds of thousands of dollars in deals for her “Healthy Holly” books. They were revealed in a series of articles in The Baltimore Sun that began March 13.

Catherine Pugh holding a sign posing for the camera: BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 16:  Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh speak at the premiere of HBO Documentary "Baltimore Rising" on November 16, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland.

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 16: Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh speak at the premiere of HBO Documentary "Baltimore Rising" on November 16, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland.
© Dave Kotinsk/Getty Images North America/TNS
Pugh’s story shifted as she tried to account for first the deal to be disclosed, struck with the University of Maryland Medical System when she was a member of the hospital network’s board. She nonetheless called continued questioning by reporters a “witch hunt.”

Then, after being hospitalized for pneumonia, Pugh apologized for the UMMS sales at a City Hall news conference on March 28. But in the process of apologizing she disclosed that some 40,000 books UMMS had paid for were never produced. And in a bizarre twist, the still seriously ill mayor showed off a line of baby clothes.

The following week, it was revealed that other entities had paid for the books, including health insurer Kaiser Permanente, which made payments during the period it successfully sought a $48 million city contract.

Pugh, saying her health remained poor, announced April 1 that she was going on leave and hasn’t been seen in public since.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has been running city government in Pugh’s place. He was cementing his leadership of the city even before last week’s dramatic federal raids.

Before the scandal, Pugh had tried to bring about positive change in Baltimore, but struggled to curb violent crime that reached historic levels before she took office and remained persistently high.

After becoming mayor in December 2016, Pugh quickly worked to implement a federal consent decree to reform the Police Department, only to see officers in an elite gun squad charged in a breathtaking corruption case.

Her choice of police commissioner quit after just months on the job, charged with federal crimes. His resignation began a months-long saga to replace him, which ended days before the first Healthy Holly article was published.

Outside of politics, Pugh worked as a banker and journalist, helped establish the city marathon and the Baltimore Design School, opened a clothing boutique in Pigtown, and served as dean and director of Strayer’s Business College, as Strayer University was then known.

Pugh added elected official to her resume in 1999 when she won a seat on the City Council. She was appointed to a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates in 2005 and, the next year, was elected to the state Senate. Pugh ran for mayor in 2011 but came in second to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The state senator became more widely known to many Baltimore residents during the April 2015 unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody. Pugh, whose district included west-side areas at the center of the trouble, was highly visible on the streets. She sought to quell emotions, urged people to go home and verbally pushed back against the likes of Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera.

During an interview with Pugh on the night of April 28, Rivera opined that people seemed to want trouble. Pugh forcefully disagreed. When Rivera asked what they did want, Pugh said, “We want our people to go home, but we also want the media to move back, because this is just inciting people.”

She had a rocky time settling on a police commissioner after firing Kevin Davis in January 2018, saying he had been unable to control a homicide rate that had reached historic heights in recent years.

She elevated Deputy Commissioner Darryl D. De Sousa, but less than four months later he resigned after being charged with failing to file tax returns. A federal judge sentenced him last month to 10 months in federal prison.

With Deputy Commissioner Gary Tuggle serving as interim chief, Pugh’s November 2018 pick of Fort Worth’s top cop, Joel Fitzgerald, was mishandled and he withdrew his name in January. Pugh then selected New Orleans’ police chief Michael Harrison, and he officially took office in March.

A high point of Pugh’s tenure came in August 2017, when amid a roiling national controversy over what to do with monuments to the Confederacy, she drew praise for acting decisively. She ordered the overnight removal of four memorials from public spaces in Baltimore.

Pugh, a native of Norristown, Pennsylvania, came to Baltimore in the 1970s to attend Morgan State, from which she received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA.

Prior to running for office, she had a varied career in business and media. She was president of her own marketing and public relations firm, CEPugh. She once was an editor of special supplements to The Baltimore Sun, and was a television and radio news reporter and talk show host.

She headed the General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus from 2010 to 2012, and began a two-year term as president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators in February 2015. She was majority leader of the Maryland Senate from 2015 to 2016.

In 2011, she ran unsuccessfully for Baltimore mayor. She was defeated in the Democratic primary in September by Rawlings-Blake, the City Council president who had become mayor in February 2010 after Sheila Dixon resigned in a plea deal to settle corruption charges. As customary in heavily Democratic Baltimore, Rawlings-Blake went on to win in the general election.

But Rawlings-Blake, under heavy criticism for how she handled the April rioting following Gray’s death, opted against seeking re-election in 2016.

Pugh was among a crowded field to vie for the Democratic nomination and in April 2016 narrowly defeated Dixon. She won the general election in November and became Baltimore’s 50th mayor.

In 2001, Pugh created the “Fish Out of Water” art program, in which individuals and businesses sponsored 200 sculptures that were decorated by artists and placed around town. Four years later, a similar effort brought decorated crabs to public places.

Also in 2001, the avid runner founded the Baltimore Marathon. According to a Baltimore Sun article, she logged her personal best time, 3:10:55, in the 1985 Maryland Marathon.

In 2010, she founded the Baltimore Design School, a public school for students interested in fashion, architecture and other arts.

In 2013, she, Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt and two other fashionable friends opened 2 Chic Boutique, a high-end consignment shop in Pigtown. One of the friends, Afra Vance-White, was among the three Pugh aides who were put on leave and then fired in April while the mayor herself was on medical leave. The shop has been closed since the end of last year, Pratt said.

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©2019 The Baltimore Sun

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