Baltimore mayor resigns amid scandal over book sales

Baltimore mayor resigns amid scandal over book sales

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Catherine Pugh is shown at her inauguration as mayor on Dec. 6, 2016, at City Hall in Baltimore. (BaltimoreGovPics/Flickr)

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned Thursday afternoon amid a growing scandal over her sales of children’s books to entities that do business with the city.

At a news conference, Pugh’s attorney, Steven Silverman, read a brief statement from his client — who was nowhere in sight —  saying that her resignation was effective immediately.

“I am 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,” he read.

The statement thanked City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young for his leadership and wished him well in his new role as mayor.

Pugh’s resignation occurs a week after federal agents raided City Hall and her home, and a month and a day after she took a leave of absence from her job.

When Pugh, 69, went on leave starting April 1 citing health reasons. She said she still was recovering from a bout of pneumonia for which she had been hospitalized.

But Pugh stepped aside just days after the Baltimore Sun revealed that she had been paid a total of nearly $900,000 for bulk sales of her self-published “Healthy Holly” series of children’s books to companies that do business with the city or state. She had a $500,000 contract with the University of Maryland Medical System although has served on its board for 18 years.

She resigned from the board after the deal came to light, as did several other UMMS board members who had private contracts with the mammoth medical provider, which receives state funding.

Days later the Baltimore Sun disclosed that Kaiser-Permanente and Blue Cross-Blue Shield also had bought books from the mayor. Both insurers have contracts to offer medical insurance to Baltimore’s municipal employees.

Associated Black Charities, a Baltimore nonprofit, also paid for some of the books.

Most of the books have not been accounted; several boxes of the books were found recently in a warehouse.

Agents from the FBI and IRS agents raided Pugh’s home and City Hall on April 25, removing several boxes of materials. The agents also executed search warrants at the Maryland Center for Adult Training — a nonprofit whose board Pugh has chaired since 2001.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican serving his second term, applauded Pugh’s decision to resign. He had ordered an investigation into Pugh’s actions. In a late-afternoon tweet, he wrote: “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.”

Last month Hogan, a Republican serving his second term, repeatedly called for Pugh to step down “for the good of the city,” saying she was “clearly not fit to lead.”

On April 8 the Baltimore City Council sent Pugh a two-sentence request to resign. All the council members except for Young signed the memo.

Young, 64, had been filling in for the mayor during her absence.

Last week Young fired three of the seven Pugh aides who have been on leave of absence since early April, according to local reports. He did not disclose the reasons for the dismissals.

Other state politicians as well as business leaders in the city had urged the mayor to resign.

Pugh, a longtime politician who was served in the Baltimore City Council as well as the Maryland House of Delegates and the Maryland Senate, a state delegate, was elected the city’s 50th mayor in November 2016 and took office the following month. During her campaign, she vowed to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, but declined to support the measure once she got into office.

Pugh is Baltimore’s third female mayor. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon resigned in 2010 as a condition of a plea deal in which she admitted stealing gift cards meant for poor families. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, then the City Council president, succeeded Dixon.

Beleaguered Baltimore has endured other scandals of late. Just five weeks ago, former Police Commissioner Darryl DeSousa was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to tax fraud. Pugh had appointed DeSousa, a 30-year-veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, in January 2018 but he resigned just four months later after being charged with not filing federal and Maryland tax returns for a several years, and for taking fraudulent deductions totaling nearly $68,000.

Last month Michael Harrison was confirmed as Baltimore’s 10th police commissioner in two decades. He is the former police superintendent in New Orleans.

Gov. Hogan said on Thursday that Pugh’s resignation will allow Baltimore to carry on.

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