On Thursday, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned after a month of scandal that culminated with an FBI and IRS seizure of dozens of boxes of documents last week. Pugh’s second career as a children’s book author of future classics like “Healthy Holly: Fruits Come in Colors Like a Rainbow” and “Exercising Is Fun” became the subject of much controversy when she began to collect huge sums for her works.
Pugh’s shady financial practices date back to years before her time as mayor, but as the sources of revenue from her book sales became known in early 2019, the evidence of her misdeeds became impossible to ignore. In March, The Baltimore Sun broke the story about Pugh’s possibly inappropriate collection of payments from Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities. Kaiser Permanente was vying for a lucrative contract to insure Baltimore City employees at the time they purchased $115,000 worth of children’s books authored by Pugh. Associated Black Charities collected funds from multiple other sources to buy $80,000 worth of the books.
Earlier in the year, Pugh had taken $500,000 for the books from the University of Maryland Medical Systems. She was a board member at the time. All in all, the total purchase of books, which were all earmarked to be donated to Baltimore City Schools, should have equated to nearly 85,000 copies. Yet a printer in Canada claims to have produced only around 65,000. Baltimore schools and other charities have accounted for only a fraction of that number having ever been delivered to the children for whom they were intended.
Once the scandal became publicly known, Pugh ignored initial requests for her resignation. Soon after, however, she took a curiously timed leave of absence, which she attributed to an ongoing illness.
Calls for her resignation began in earnest following the raid, coming from her City Council members, Maryland Democrats, and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Her attorney, Steven Silverman, spoke on her behalf, claiming the mayor was too weak to make a decision about her future as mayor.
Yesterday, however, Pugh’s time as mayor came to an official end. Still on a leave of absence and claiming illness, her attorney read her official resignation. City Council President Jack Young was immediately and automatically elevated to the position.
The Baltimore mayoral office has been troubled for more than a decade. Pugh is the third Baltimore mayor in a row to vacate office in a cloud of shame. Her predecessor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, chose not to run for re-election following the death of Freddie Gray and subsequent city riots in 2015. Her response to the crises was widely criticized. Once a rising star of the Democrat Party, Rawlings-Blake, just 49, is now out of politics.
Rawlings-Blake began her mayoral stint in the fog of another disgraced Baltimore mayor, Sheila Dixon. Dixon was investigated for theft, fraud, embezzlement, and perjury shortly after taking office in 2008. The most notable crime was the theft of donated gift cards intended for needy families, which she used to purchase several fur coats and designer shoes.
She was indicted on 12 counts by a federal grand jury. Although she did not serve jail time as part of a plea deal, she resigned in 2010 with a promise not to seek any political office for the term of her probation.
The city of Baltimore has a choice going forward. They can learn from their failed mayors by voting on policies and character, or they can continue to elect crooked, broken, greedy politicians to lead their struggling city. Following her probation, Dixon ran in the 2016 Democratic mayoral primary. She lost by less than 2 percent. As a write-in candidate in the general election, she received more than 22 percent of the popular vote.
Someone who was convicted of stealing from and deceiving the citizens of her own needy city should never get another single vote of support or confidence. Baltimore residents should consider that they deserve better representation than people like Pugh, Dixon, and Rawlings-Blake.
Hopefully Mayor Jack Young will lead the Charm City with dignity, honesty, and an actual love of Baltimore and the people who live there.