I’ve known Catherine Pugh for roughly a quarter-century, and admired her intelligence and energy and outward love of her adopted city – all of which make it so painful to join the chorus of voices urging her to resign as mayor of Baltimore.
If her office is telling us the truth, that she truly cares about “the people and the city of Baltimore,” she’ll give up this sad charade of insisting she still has a future running the city.
She’s a woman standing at the edge of an ocean and attempting to hold back the tide. She’s already drenched in allegations of scandal from the sale of her “Healthy Holly” books, which even a child understands was a veiled form of political bribery from institutions looking to do business with the city.
Her entire City Council, which normally can’t agree on such weighty decisions as lunch, is now unanimously telling her to step aside. So is the city delegation to the General Assembly. Their voices were added this week to earlier sentiments from Gov. Larry Hogan.
In the aftermath of revelations that the mayor quietly took six-figure money from institutions with clear conflicts of interest, the council sent her a terse two-sentence letter, declaring, “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 serve as Mayor. We urge you to tender your resignation, effective immediately.”
To which the mayor’s office issued a statement on her behalf, saying she continues to recuperate from her recent bout with pneumonia, and that she “fully intends to resume the duties of her office and continuing her work on behalf of the people and the City of Baltimore.”
The mayor knows better. She’s a smart, insightful woman who spent years working hard to take over leadership of this city. That’s what makes her story such a sad one. A lot of people invested a lot of hope in her when she got the job.
But she’s become an embarrassment in a city already embarrassed by its homicides, its drug trafficking, its thousands of decayed houses, its impending loss of the Preakness Stakes, and the still-pungent memory of a previous mayor, Sheila Dixon, who had to vacate office because of a criminal scandal.
The statement that Pugh intends to return to office feels like an opening gambit, much like the opening offer in a labor negotiation. In any negotiation, one side aims high and the other low. Eventually, they work their way toward sane middle ground – but who knows how long that may take, and how much deeper into the mud it takes the city itself?
The mayor is already worrying about her municipal pension, her chances of avoiding incarceration, her chances of holding onto the huge money she took from the sale of her children’s books.
So she claims she’s staying in office. It’s her opening bid, preposterously high as it is. At some point, hopefully not too far down the road, she’ll have to change her mind, but it’ll come as part of a bargain. Maybe she can avoid prosecution. Maybe she can hold onto some of her money. Maybe she’ll get easy community service.
If Pugh steps aside without a fight, where’s her bargaining position? So her letter makes perverse sense. All it does is burden the city and its citizens – especially its children — whom she claims to care about so much.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.