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Baltimore's mayor is in very hot water over her self-published kids books

She's taken about $800,000 in “self-dealing” arrangements involving the books

by Carter Sherman
Apr 8 2019, 3:36pm

The Baltimore City Council would really like its mayor to leave now, please.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has taken a leave of absence in the wake of the revelation that she took about $800,000 from groups with stakes in the work of state and local government agencies, in apparent “self-dealing” arrangements involving her self-published children’s books. Pugh says she’s on leave because of a recent bout of pneumonia, but the Baltimore City Council is nearly unanimous in its conviction that Pugh should not return to office.

“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 members wrote in a letter sent to Pugh on Monday, the Baltimore Sun reported. “We urge you to tender your resignation, effective immediately.”

Every member of the council but one signed the letter. The lone standout, Bernard C. “Jack” Young, is currently serving as Baltimore’s acting mayor.

Pugh was a state senator in the late 2000s, when she first started developing books based on a character called “Health Holly,” the Baltimore Sun reported. At the time, she also served on the board of the University of Maryland Medical System.

Starting in 2011, Pugh and the University of Maryland Medical System had a deal: The system paid Pugh $100,000 for 20,000 copies of her “Healthy Holly” book series, the Sun found. By 2018, two years after the Democrat became mayor, Pugh had received another $400,000 from the system, in exchange for 80,000 more books.

Over those years, a number of other entities interested in Pugh’s work also bought her books, such as Kaiser Permanente, which wanted a $48 million contract with a city board Pugh ran, according to the Washington Post. Tens of thousands of book orders were not completed, Pugh has said, while the local school system has only been able to uncover about 9,000 copies of “Healthy Holly” books — which were sitting in a warehouse.

Pugh did not report information about her Healthy Holly LLC on financial disclosure forms during her time in the state senate, despite facing the penalty of perjury for not doing so, the Sun reported. (Since the scandal broke, Pugh has filed amended forms.) A state prosecutor is now investigating the matter.

However, if Pugh isn’t convicted of a crime, the Baltimore City Council likely lacks the power to forcibly remove her. The Baltimore city charter doesn’t offer any mechanism for impeaching a mayor.

A top mayoral aide, James Smith, resigned from his post on Friday.

Cover: Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh addresses a gathering during the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Boston, Friday, June 8, 2018. More than 250 city executives gathered to discuss their concerns including infrastructure, school safety, immigration and the economic future of cities. With Pugh are Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, and Columbia, SC Mayor Steve Benjamin. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)