Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, a Democrat, will take an indefinite leave of absence — but still collect her $185,000 a year salary — due to her “deteriorating” health.
The Baltimore Sun reported Monday evening that the mayor would be taking leave after coming under fire over the past month for a scandal in which the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) struck a deal with Pugh worth $500,000 for copies of the mayor’s children’s book, which now sit in a warehouse, undistributed.
Pugh was a member of the UMMS board, and had a business deal wherein approximately 100,000 copies of her children’s book, “Healthy Holly,” would be purchased and distributed to schools and daycare centers. About 8,700 of those books now sit in a warehouse owned by the Baltimore school system. A spokeswoman told the Sun that she could not find documentation for the books but that an “unsolicited” shipment was delivered sometime between 2011 and 2013.
Two weeks ago, Pugh resigned from the UMMS board and last week apologized for the deal she made in connection with the books.
“I sincerely want to say that I apologize that I have done something to upset the people of Baltimore,” Pugh said at a press conference on March 28. “I never intended to do anything that could not stand up to scrutiny.”
The scandal comes from Pugh’s no-bid deal, which she didn’t report as income on her annual General Assembly financial disclosure forms, according to The Washington Post. She later amended the forms after the Sun’s reporting.
Now her office claims that she was hospitalized for five days last week (apparently before the press conference) for pneumonia and will be taking a leave of absence to recover.
“With the mayor’s health deteriorating, she feels as though she is unable to fulfill her obligations as mayor of Baltimore city,” said a statement published by the Sun. “To that end, Mayor Pugh will be taking an indefinite leave of absence to recuperate from this serious illness.”
The statement, according to the Sun, did not mention the book scandal and comes at a time when Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has called for a criminal investigation into Pugh’s book deal. Hogan has asked the office of the state prosecutor to open a criminal investigation into Pugh’s actions.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young will serve as the interim mayor while Pugh recovers.
In addition to her sweetheart deal with the UMMS, Pugh was also paid more than $100,000 by the health insurer Kaiser Permanente for copies of her books between 2015 and 2018. Conveniently, in 2017, Kaiser was awarded a $48 million contract with Baltimore to provide city employees health insurance. At the time of the deal, Pugh controlled the city’s spending board, according to the Sun.
When Pugh resigned from the UMMS board, she also repaid $100,000 from the book deal.
As the Post reported, Pugh is “the second Baltimore mayor in the past decade to be navigating a corruption scandal; Democrat Sheila Dixon resigned from office in 2010 after being convicted of embezzlement.”