Baltimore Mayor Pugh resigns amid children's book scandal

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has resigned following weeks of investigations into a scandal around her self-published children’s books.

In a statement read by her attorney Steven Silverman at a Thursday afternoon press conference, Pugh announced she was stepping down, effective immediately.

“Dear citizens of Baltimore, I would like to thank you for allowing me to serve as the 50th mayor, it has been an honor and a privilege,” read Silverman. “Today I am submitting my written resignation to the Baltimore City Council. 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.”

Silverman refused to take questions and Pugh was not present. Interim Mayor Jack Young, who was elevated from his role as City Council president when Pugh went on leave last month, will continue to serve in the role. In the statement, Pugh thanked Young for his service and wished him well as her successor.

Pugh’s troubles began in March when the Baltimore Sun reported that, while serving on the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) board of directors, Pugh arranged deals, beginning in 2001, to sell 100,000 copies of her “Healthy Holly” series of children’s books to the medical system at a total cost of $500,000. While the books teach children the importance of diet and exercise, there were no competitive bids for the deal, and Pugh resigned from the board shortly after the initial Sun report.

Pugh went on paid medical leave for what she said was pneumonia on April 1, the same day Gov. Larry Hogan called for an official inquiry into the “Healthy Holly” scandal. Hogan later called on Pugh to resign.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. (Photo: Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Just before Pugh announced her leave of absence, the Sun reported that the health insurance giant Kaiser Permanente paid Pugh $114,000 for copies of her books from 2015 to 2018. In September 2017, the city’s spending board, which Pugh controls, awarded Kaiser a $48 million contract for insurance for city employees. Pugh has not commented about the deal with Kaiser.

Additional Baltimore groups and individuals have stepped forward since Pugh has gone on leave to say they purchased books from her, bringing the total money she received for the series to nearly $800,000At least 20,000 copies of the “Healthy Holly” series remain unaccounted for, and another 8,700 sit unread in a warehouse. Pugh initially called the investigation into her deal with the UMMS a “witch hunt” but has since refunded $100,000 to the medical system while characterizing the deal as “a regrettable mistake.”

On April 25, the FBI raided seven locations in Baltimore, including Pugh’s two homes and her City Hall office, seeking material related to the investigation. Although the City Council unanimously called for Pugh to step down, there was no mechanism in the city charter to remove her from office without a criminal conviction, leaving some members to unsuccessfully plead with the state legislature to pass a bill that would allow her removal.

Pugh remains under investigation by the FBI, the IRS and the Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor.

Pugh's political career began in 1999 when she won election to the City Council. After serving in the Maryland Legislature and rising to the post of Senate majority leader, she clinched the mayoral office by winning 37 percent in the 2016 Democratic primary.

This is not Pugh’s first foray into literature. In 2005, before she became mayor, she self-published a book of poetry titled “Mind Garden: Where Thoughts Grow.” The book contains the following excerpt:

Can you take a politician at their word? For what is said . . . May not be what you heard . . . They can twist and turn and show concern . . . But what they spoke could be a joke . . .

The mayor’s troubles are the latest embarrassment for the city. In March, former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa was sentenced to 10 months in prison for failing to file federal tax returns. One of Pugh’s predecessors, Mayor Sheila Dixon, stepped down in 2010 after embezzling gift cards that were meant for needy Baltimore families.

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