BALTIMORE (CN) – The Baltimore City Council unanimously called Monday for the city’s embattled mayor to resign over a scandal involving sales of her children’s books, but she has shown no signs of giving in.
In a single-page memo, all 14 City Council members – except for Council President Bernard “Jack” Young, who is currently serving as acting mayor – effectively delivered a no-confidence vote to Mayor Catherine Pugh.
“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. We urge you to tender your resignation, effective immediately,” the memo states in its entirety.
Pugh released a statement hours later reiterating that she “fully intends to resume the duties of her office” as soon as she recovers from a bout of pneumonia. And she well might.
“She has all the options in the world now,” Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, the body’s longest-serving member, said in a phone interview Monday. “We don’t have any power to terminate her term.”
Pugh – a former state senator, city councilwoman and editor of the Baltimore Sun, (which also called for her to step down Monday – has had a rocky tenure since winning the mayor’s office in 2016. An aide was criminally prosecuted for laundering campaign donations through relatives, though he kept his job, then she presided over record violence and the criminal conviction of her hand-picked police chief for federal tax fraud.
But things seemed to be going on much as they usually do in Baltimore until last month, when the Sun reported that, in a no-bid deal, Pugh had sold 100,000 copies of a self-published children’s book to the state hospital system for half a million dollars.
More revelations followed – of charity purchases, sales to the health insurer Kaiser Permanente and a $100,000 book-buy deal from a city contractor who oversees an $80 million underground conduit job, despite scant qualifications. Most of the books cannot be located and the mayor refused to make a public accounting of her book sales, at one point telling a Sun reporter they were on a “witch hunt.”
Pugh announced last week she was taking a leave of absence for pneumonia. Her top aide, a former county executive for neighboring Baltimore County, resigned Friday.
The interim leader of the University of Maryland Medical System testified last week that Pugh had asked top executives to make bulk purchases of her book series “Healthy Holly,” about a young girl who makes healthy diet and exercise choices.
“We do know that the mayor approached us,” acting CEO John W. Ashworth III told the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee, according to the Sun. “She had direct conversations with the president and CEO at the time, and possibly others. But we need to look into that even more to make a determination about how all of that occurred.”
Pugh’s criminal defense lawyer, Steven Silverman of Thompson, Slutkin and White, told the Sun that the state prosecutor began an investigation into the matter. Silverman did not immediately respond to a call and email seeking comment Monday.
City Council members uniformly say she can’t govern.
Councilman Brandon Scott tweeted out the message just after 4 a.m., when he typically runs several miles.
“Baltimore will continue to have a cloud over its head while the investigations into Mayor Pugh’s business dealings go on,” he said in an accompanying statement. “These issues are extremely severe and prohibit the mayor from focusing on the business of Baltimore.”
Councilman Eric Costello says that while fully supports “the notion of ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ I remain deeply concerned about the immeasurable toll this scandal has taken on the City of Baltimore and its citizens. Resignation will not solve every problem but Baltimore needs to heal, once again, and it cannot do so until the mayor steps aside.”
“She’s being investigated left and right,” Councilwoman Clarke said.
But there is precedent for staying on: former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who was Pugh’s chief rival in the last election, left office in 2010 in a deal with prosecutors, entering an Alford plea to a single count of perjury. The deal ended years of investigations and multiple criminal prosecutions in a wide-ranging bid-rigging and bribery case that focused at last on the Dixon’s alleged personal use of gift cards earmarked for poor children.
She got to keep her $83,000 pension.
Clarke says Pugh appears to be similarly using her office as a bargaining chip.
“This is different from Sheila because the mayor took a leave of absence,” the councilwoman said. “But, yes. Yes. It was definitely a bargaining chip with Sheila Dixon.”