The Baltimore City Board of Ethics has opened an investigation into Mayor Catherine Pugh, who recently announced an indefinite leave of absence to focus on her health after a bout with pneumonia. This announcement came in the wake of allegations that Pugh received $500,000 from the University of Maryland Medical System for her “Healthy Holly” book deal.
Earlier this week, Gov. Larry Hogan called on the state prosecutor to investigate Pugh, 69. State Comptroller Peter Franchot has urged the mayor to step down immediately.
Also leading the charge for Pugh to resign is Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen (D-1st). Jmore recently spoke about the matter with Cohen.
Why did you call for the mayor’s resignation early on?
Baltimore has experienced an enormous amount of trauma. Reporting I recently read stated that Mayor Pugh headed the Board of Estimates without recusing herself after receiving payments for her self-published ‘Healthy Holly’ books from Kaiser Permanente while it was bidding for a contract to insure city employees. That clearly represents a major ethics violation.
Of course, the payments for these books by the University of Maryland Medical System were incredibly troubling, but those contracts occurred while Mayor Pugh was in the State Senate. The Kaiser Permanente arrangement happened when Mayor Pugh sat on the Board of Estimates and controlled three of the five votes. She had a real responsibility to recuse herself from voting on that contract.
I don’t believe that at that time, people knew she had that contract with Kaiser Permanente. This action by the mayor was beyond acceptable.
But the issue here is more than about any single individual. It is about structural and institutional reforms that are needed.
What should we expect from ex officio Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young?
Being ex officio mayor is not what he would have wanted, but I’m confident he’s the right person. As president of the Baltimore City Council since 2010, he has the full confidence and support of the City Council. He understands how it functions. After the [Freddie Gray disturbances of 2015], he had the foresight to create the Children and Youth Fund. He will be a stable presence in this exceedingly difficult time for the city. He, and we, remain focused on and committed to reducing violence.
Can Young be effective at this point?
As City Council president, Jack has empowered younger and newer members of the City Council. I chair the Education and Youth Committee, Shannon Sneed heads the Labor Committee, John Bullock heads Housing and Urban Affairs, and Eric Costello chairs the Budget and Appropriations Committee. I think Jack will continue to empower people to do the jobs that needs to be done.
Jack has also been at the forefront of creating better water equity and accounting systems. He always puts Baltimore citizens first.
Why should Baltimoreans remain in the city, given all of the problems?
I still believe that Baltimore is the ultimate American comeback story. I see it every day in our growing tech sector, in our incredible small businesses and in our thriving entertainment and art scenes. We are a resilient city.
I’m excited that I will send my daughter, Maya, to a Baltimore public school, Hampstead Hill Academy. It is a five-star school, one of the best in Maryland.
The Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education has increased resources for Baltimore public schools. Michael Harrison, who has only been in Baltimore about a month, is one of the best police commissioners in the country. He is committed to reforming the Baltimore Police Department and getting violence under control. He is already working on community solutions for violence as well as the opioid crisis.
How can progress be measured in the matter?
That’s a really great question. Pay attention, get involved. There’s no quick fix. We won’t turn around all the violence or quickly fix the systems that landed us in this latest scandal. But you will see us really digging in and doing the work that needs to be done.
Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.