Baltimore’s mayor resigned under pressure Thursday amid a flurry of investigations into whether she arranged bulk sales of her self-published children’s books to disguise hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.
Mayor Catherine Pugh’s resignation came exactly a week after her City Hall offices, homes and multiple other locations were raided by FBI and IRS agents. She is the second Baltimore mayor in less than a decade to step down because of scandal. She entered office contrasting her clean image with that of her main rival, ex-Mayor Sheila Dixon, who departed office in 2010 as part of a plea deal for misappropriating about $500 in gift cards meant for needy families.
“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,” Pugh said in a written statement read by her lawyer, Steven Silverman.
A federal grand jury has been empaneled, and state and local inquiries are also underway into the roughly $800,000 Pugh made over the years in exchange for her “Healthy Holly” paperbacks about health and nutrition.
Since the book scandal erupted in late March, Pugh’s fractured administration has lurched from one crisis to another, and various aides have been fired or left City Hall.
Her resignation provides a measure of resolution after weeks of uncertainty and mounting pressure for her to step down. Maryland’s Republican governor and numerous Democrats had pressed for her resignation, saying she was no longer fit to lead Baltimore.
“This was the right decision, as it was clear the mayor could no longer lead effectively,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “Baltimore City can now begin to move forward.”
Now that Pugh has resigned, acting Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young automatically becomes the permanent mayor and will not need to be sworn in. Young, a Democrat and longtime City Council member, is currently in Detroit for a conference about economic development and will return to Baltimore over the weekend.
“I am confident that I have left the City in capable hands for the duration of the term to which I was elected,” Pugh wrote in a letter to Young.
In a statement, Young thanked the thousands of city employees who came to work each day under uncertain circumstances for weeks.
“Although I understand that this ordeal has caused real pain for many Baltimoreans,” he said, “I promise that we will emerge from it more committed than ever to building a stronger Baltimore.”
Citing deteriorating health following a bout of pneumonia, Pugh took a paid leave on April 1 and hasn’t been seen in public since. The 69-year-old abruptly retreated to her home the same day that Hogan asked the state prosecutor to investigate public corruption accusations against her.
In recent days, Silverman had repeatedly gone in and out of Pugh’s city home to discuss “options” with her while also asserting that she was so fragile physically and mentally that she was unable to make “major decisions.” Last week, Silverman had told reporters that she might be “lucid” enough to make a decision this week.
At issue for multiple investigators are questionable financial arrangements she negotiated over years selling her hard-to-find “Healthy Holly” books. The books were meant to be provided to schools and daycare centers, but it’s unclear where tens of thousands of copies ended up.
Hogan has called the accusations against Pugh “deeply disturbing,” and the state’s accountant described the book-selling arrangements as “brazen, cartoonish corruption.” The City Council called for Pugh’s immediate resignation, as did numerous state lawmakers and an influential business group, among others.
The scandal erupted when it came to light that the University of Maryland Medical System, one of the state’s largest private employers, paid Pugh $500,000 for 100,000 copies of her children’s books. There was no contract behind the deal, and the hospital network described some of the purchases as “grants” in federal filings.