Amid calls for her resignation, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh announced that she will be taking an indefinite leave of absence for personal health reasons on Monday.
This followed a report from The Baltimore Sun detailing that the healthcare company Kaiser Permanente had purchased $114,000 worth of Pugh’s self-published children’s book Healthy Holly between 2015 and 2018. The purchase came at the same time that Kaiser Permanente was negotiating to provide healthcare coverage for city employees.
In addition to Kaiser Permanente’s purchase of 20,000 books, the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) paid $500,000 for copies of the book. Pugh sat on the board for both UMMS and the city’s spending board. The spending board, which Pugh controlled, awarded the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc. a $48 million contract from 2018 to 2020. Pugh did not abstain from the vote despite personal involvement with the healthcare company.
In a public statement, Pugh’s office addressed her reasons for taking a leave of absence.
“Mayor Catherine E. Pugh has been battling pneumonia for the past few weeks. She has been advised by her physicians that she needs to take time to recover and focus on her health,” the statement reads.
Councilman Zeke Cohen was the first council member to call for Pugh’s resignation. In a Facebook post, he wrote that though he hopes for her speedy recovery, he believes that she is no longer able to serve as an efficient mayor.
“Mayor Pugh has lost the moral mandate to govern and the public’s trust. Baltimore deserves better,” he wrote. “Our city deserves to trust that our elected officials are acting ethically and in the interest of those they serve at every level.”
Junior Olivia Cigarroa interned for Cohen and agrees with his sentiments. In an email to The News-Letter she noted that although this scandal will cause turbulence within Baltimore, other more suited individuals will help reconstruct the political community.
“Individuals like Councilman Cohen are people who should be in charge of our city. As this scandal has shown, people’s true colors show,” she wrote. “Mayor Pugh was not fit for the job, but others such as Councilman Cohen will pick up her slack for the time being and guide Baltimore City.”
Sophomore Sam Schatmeyer also interned for Cohen this past summer. Schatmeyer believes that Pugh’s alleged misconduct translates into a larger problem within the city.
“Though everyone kind of has deep-seated feelings of mistrust about Baltimore City politics, its pretty wild to see the Mayor herself so directly implicated in scandal that’s so blatant,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
Schatmeyer further noted that the Hopkins community also has ties to Pugh. In January, nine senior University administrators and one retired hospital CEO donated a total of $16,000 to the Committee to Elect Pugh.
In light of the scandal, Schatmeyer expressed his concern that the donation was not meant in good faith.
“How could you not immediately think of the private police force bill? Like this story ought to give people of Baltimore and Hopkins students an even deeper sense of just how undemocratic ramming that bill through the legislature was after Mayor Pugh supported it,” he wrote.
On Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered a state prosecutor to investigate Pugh and her book sales with UMMS. Meanwhile, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young will take over Pugh’s responsibilities as ex officio mayor of the city.
In addition to Hogan’s investigation, Young will be conducting a review of all major city contracts, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Correction: The original article stated that State Senator Antonio Hayes introduced the bill for the private police force at the request of the Mayor’s office in February. Senator Hayes introduced the bill at the request of the University. The News-Letter regrets this error.