Hopkins community reflects on Mayor Pugh scandals

By RUDY MALCOM | May 2, 2019

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Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents raided Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s house and offices at City Hall on Thursday. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan called on her to resign in a public statement hours later, following the lead of the City Council and the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), a regional organization comprised of University President Ronald J. Daniels and other business and civic leaders.

Pugh’s business dealings have been under state investigation for more than a month. On April 1, Pugh’s office announced that she would be taking an indefinite leave of absence to recover from pneumonia. This statement coincided with a report from The Baltimore Sun detailing that health care company Kaiser Permanente had purchased about 200,000 copies of Pugh’s Healthy Holly children’s books for $114,000 between 2015 and 2018. During this period, Kaiser Permanente was negotiating with the city’s spending panel to provide city employees with health care coverage. According to The Baltimore Sun, Pugh did not abstain from the vote despite the alleged conflict of interest.

In addition, The Baltimore Sun reported that the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), a regional health care system, paid Pugh $500,000 for 100,000 copies of the book. Pugh stepped down from the UMMS board on March 18 after facing backlash over neglecting to fully disclose this deal.

Sophomore Political Science major Nicole Kiker criticized Pugh’s relationship with Kaiser Permanente and UMMS, advocating for Pugh to step down.

“The powerful and rich people of Baltimore swapping money behind closed doors is not a good look,” she said. “Pugh should definitely resign. The entire City Council has called for her to do so.”

Pugh is the second Baltimore mayor this decade to experience corruption allegations. In 2010, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon resigned after being found guilty of theft and embezzlement. Under the City Charter, Pugh cannot be removed from office without a conviction.

During the FBI and IRS raids, Pugh’s attorney Steven Silverman stated that Pugh was not yet “lucid” enough to decide whether to resign, according to The Baltimore Sun. Pugh initially vowed to return to her role as mayor, health permitting.

“She is leaning toward making the best decision in the best interest in the citizens of Baltimore City,” he said.

On Tuesday, Silverman told The Baltimore Sun not to expect a decision by the end of that day. 

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has been the city’s acting mayor since April 1. Senior Political Science major Sean Jost, however, argued that Pugh’s failure to resign prevents city government from being effective.

“Due to her health concerns, it would probably be better both for herself and for the city if she steps down,” he said. “The longer City Hall remains in limbo, the less effective government will be and the less legitimacy it will have.”

Jost added that Baltimore requires strong leadership in light of Pugh’s scandal, debate over the planned private police force and other issues facing the city.

The Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a policy roundtable discussion regarding such issues with State Comptroller Peter Franchot, who serves as Maryland’s chief financial officer, at Shriver Hall on May 1. Franchot believes that Pugh should be succeeded by someone like Senator Mary Washington, who has been a vocal critic of the proposed private police force. Washington represents the state’s 43rd district, which comprises of Abell, Charles Village, Waverly and other Baltimore neighborhoods.

“She has the most indispensable ingredient that an elected official needs. She has integrity,” Franchot said. “She has guts, too... If you can’t get her, get someone like her to run for mayor. Put somebody on the job who’s there for the right reasons.” 

Mikhael Hammer-Bleich, former president of College Democrats, echoed Franchot’s sentiments. Hammer-Bleich highlighted the need for voters to support and campaign for candidates who will not bring shame to Baltimore politics.

“We must do everything we can to make sure that whoever is appointed or elected next to take Pugh’s spot really is a pure person,” he said. “It’s a terrible sign for Baltimore that we’re unable to get mayors without any scandal going along with them.”

Hammer-Bleich stressed that Pugh should step down. Although the GBC, on which Daniels sits, voted unanimously in favor of Pugh’s resignation, Hammer-Bleich believes that Daniels shouldn’t be involved with be the scandal going forward.

“I don’t think it’s Daniels’ place to call for her to resign. He should be apolitical and stand back in this particular moment,” he said. “It’s the role of politicians to call for an ouster. He’s the president of Johns Hopkins.”

On Jan. 9, Daniels donated $3,000 to the Committee to Elect Catherine E. Pugh. Eight other senior administrative officials and one retired hospital CEO contributed an additional $13,000 to the campaign, according to the finance report Pugh filed with the Maryland Board of Elections.

Citing these donations, Kiker disagreed with Hammer-Bleich, emphasizing that Daniels should personally call on Pugh to resign.

The News-Letter asked Vice President Communications Susan Ridge to comment on whether Daniels will be calling directly for Pugh’s resignation. In an email to The News-Letter, Ridge reiterated Daniels’ support for the GBC’s recent resolution. 

“Like many Baltimoreans, President Daniels is deeply concerned about the allegations involving the Mayor and their impact on the city,” she wrote.

Ridge explained that Daniels’ donations to Pugh’s campaign were unrelated to the Mayor’s support for a private police force, the bill that State Senator Antonio Hayes introduced on Feb. 4 at the request of the University. Ridge wrote that Pugh has supported a university police department at Hopkins since 2017.

Kiker explored the potential repercussions of Pugh’s failure to resign.

“If Pugh doesn’t resign, Baltimore will only enhance its reputation for corrupt politics,” she said.

On the other hand, freshman Orlando Espinoza believes that Baltimore students and community members will be able to withstand Pugh’s corruption scandal.

“I don’t think there’s a single scandal that could break our optimism for our city,” he said. 

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