In recent years, Baltimore, Maryland has become more famous for scandal and public corruption than it ever was for Chesapeake crabs and Berger cookies. Sadly, this week marks a new low for Charm City as their mayor, Catherine Pugh, has become embroiled in a scandal from which she is unlikely to recover, possibly facing criminal charges.
Last week, the mayor acknowledged a “regrettable mistake” in taking $500,000 from the University of Maryland Medical Systems (UMMS) for her series of children’s books, “Healthy Holly.” Pugh sat on the board of UMMS but resigned once news of the payment became public. In a press conference, she stated that every book she had been paid for did reach their intended destination of Baltimore public schools, even providing shipping receipts and statements to the effect. UMMS receives significant public funding.
In only a few days, however, the regrettable mistake exploded into full-blown scandal when The Baltimore Sun reported that health conglomerate Kaiser Permanente paid Pugh about $115,000 for 20,000 of her “Healthy Holly” books. These purchases were all made during a period when Kaiser Permanente was bidding for a lucrative contract to insure city employees. Additionally, nonprofit Associated Black Charities paid Pugh’s company a further $80,000 after collecting money from several health insurance providers for copies of the books.
When Kaiser Permanente’s contract bid came before the Board of Estimates, she did not recuse herself. She voted in favor of it.
Attorneys for Pugh confirmed that she received payment from UMMS but were unable to answer questions about the Kaiser Permanente payments. The mayor took a leave of absence on Monday, claiming illness.
The scandal has devolved to such an unbelievable level of deceit and wrongdoing that those who remember the HBO drama “The Wire” may find Pugh’s actions eerily similar to criminal politician Clay Davis. However, this scandal would never have made it to an episode of the award-winning show. Creator and Baltimore native David Simon was none too impressed with his mayor’s behavior.
If this Baltimore scandal came out of my shop, the writer’s room would be fired for being devoid of wit and nuance. This mayor needs to resign. And get with her lawyers. And read the U.S. code. This is straight-up extortion, bribery and bid-rigging. https://t.co/dAniRngoVa
— David Simon (@AoDespair) April 1, 2019
As a Baltimore native, I agree the city deserves far better.
While Pugh is confident that the shipment of nearly 60,000 of the books went directly to the Baltimore public school center, the schools are less certain, though they admit to being unable to track what has gone in and out of their warehouses.
Several members of Pugh’s own party have asked for her resignation. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has asked the state prosecutor to launch an investigation into the book sales.
In a statement last week, Pugh claims that while she will continue to write children’s books and is designing children’s clothes. It seems she will have plenty of time to pursue both.