Baltimore City Lawmakers Join Chorus Calling for Pugh’s Resignation

Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City), chair of the city's House delegation, and other city lawmakers call on Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) to resign. Photo by William F. Zorzi

The steady drumbeat for the resignation of embattled Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) grew even louder Monday night, as the city delegation to the House of Delegates called for her to resign over a scandal stemming from insider sales of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books.

During a break in the action on the busy final night of the General Assembly’s 90-day legislative session, Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D), chair of the city delegation, announced support for the city council’s call earlier in the day for Pugh to resign.

“We wanted you to know that the city [House] delegation, those of us who are gathered here, stand in full support of the unanimous statement from the Baltimore City Council,” Glenn said at an impromptu news conference outside the House chamber, flanked by city legislators.

“This is too important not to take a position on,” said Glenn, of East Baltimore’s 45th District.

Glenn said she and other members of the city delegation had not been contact with the mayor.

Pugh, a West Baltimore Democrat, abruptly announced April 1 she was taking an indefinite leave of absence for health reasons, after a bout with pneumonia, and amid the “Healthy Holly” book revelations. As a result, under a provision of the city charter, Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) automatically became acting mayor, and Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton (D) temporarily ascended to council president.

That same day, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) asked the Maryland state prosecutor to open an investigation into Pugh and her book sales. Additionally, the Baltimore Board of Ethics voted unanimously last week to look into whether Pugh’s sale of her “Healthy Holly” books violated city ethics rules.

The delegation’s announcement Monday night capped a day of competing statements about the governance of Baltimore.

First thing Monday morning, the 14 members of the Baltimore City Council sent a memorandum to Pugh asking that she resign.

“The entire membership of the Baltimore City Council believes that it is not in the best interest of the City of Baltimore for you to continue to serve as mayor,” the council wrote in a two-sentence memo. “We urge you to tender your resignation, effective immediately.”

Each council member signed the memo, and copies were sent to Young, members of the city’s Senate and House delegations, City Solicitor Andre M. Davis and Bruce Williams, Pugh’s chief of staff.

The statements by both city legislators and members of the city council seemed to set up a standoff with Pugh, who has indicated she expects to return to office.

In response to the council’s call for her resignation Monday, Pugh’s office issued a statement of its own.

“Mayor Pugh has taken a leave to focus on recovering from pneumonia and regaining her health,” the statement read. “She fully intends to resume the duties of her office and continuing her work on behalf of the people and the City of Baltimore.”

There is no provision in the law that would allow Pugh to be removed from office, a criminal conviction notwithstanding. Some council members, however, are reportedly looking at ways to force the mayor out.

Acting Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) being introduced on the state Senate floor Monday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

Young was in Annapolis all day Monday, but declined to enter the fray, saying only that he wished Pugh the best in regaining her health. So long as he was acting mayor, Young said he was focused on moving the city forward.

When speaking to reporters at midday, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) walked the line on the question of whether Pugh should resign.

“I’m not getting involved in the politics of Baltimore City, but if she’s going to step back she needs to do so quickly,” Miller said about Pugh, who was his majority leader when she was a state senator before being elected mayor in 2016.

“We need leadership in Baltimore City,” he said, proceeding to tick off a litany of issues that need to be addressed in the city, including policing, the court system and overtime in the fire department.

“These are issues that call out for leadership, and we need leadership immediately,” Miller said. “So, I hope the mayor can recover quickly and assert herself, or else make a decision in the best interest of Baltimore City.”

Later, Glenn made clear what the city delegation believed Pugh should do in the best interest of the city.

“We don’t feel that it would be prudent for her to return and to possibly leave again,” Glenn said. “Let’s let Mayor Jack Young and City Council President ex officio Sharon Green Middleton continue the good job that they’re doing.”

“The position of mayor is not a revolving door,” she said.

Last week, the House delegation avoided calling on Pugh to step aside. Asked what had changed since then, Glenn said, “Once the city council, who has to work with the mayor day in and day out, unanimously came together and made a decision, we thought that we needed to come together and stand in solidarity with them.”

She did say the delegation was concerned about Pugh’s health.

“We want her to have a complete and speedy recovery, and it’s difficult to ever take a position against someone who we support, and so, we wish her well, and we hope that she will take the time to take care of whatever business she needs to take care of,” Glenn said.

In a series of articles last month, The Baltimore Sun revealed that $500,000 was paid to Pugh by the University of Maryland Medical System – where she had been a board member since 2001 – for as many as 100,000 copies of her self-published “Healthy Holly” books, no-bid sales that she did not note on any financial disclosure forms. Money from the book sales was paid to her private company, Healthy Holly LLC.

Once the book deal came to light, she resigned the UMMS position, returned $100,000 to the medical system for 20,000 undelivered books and amended her financial disclosure filings.

But since then, additional deals involving Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” book sales have surfaced, including a letter from Associated Black Charities to the city ethics board detailing roughly $87,180 in donations the organization from five private entities to purchase 10,000 of the Healthy Holly books between 2011 and 2016.

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William F. Zorzi
Bill Zorzi was a Baltimore Sun reporter and editor for nearly 20 years, focusing on government and politics. An Annapolis bureau veteran, he wrote a weekly column, “The Political Game” for the paper.Zorzi and another former Sun reporter, David Simon, are longtime collaborators on acclaimed television projects, including the HBO series, “The Wire,” and the HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” which dealt with an explosive housing desegregation case in Yonkers, NY.
Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.

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