DETROIT – Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh has come under fire in recent days for his YouTube video boasting of his weight loss success while the city has been teetering on the verge of insolvency. On Monday, he encountered more trouble for berating an intern on Twitter after he was criticized in a tweet.
On Friday, Pugh released the video in which he showed off his abs and talked about his 60 lb. weight loss, and it drew heavy criticism from media and residents alike. In just his first term in council, many have questioned Pugh’s priorities, as he has made many questionable decisions, including his focus on his weight loss.
The Twitter spat began on Sunday when Josh Sidorowicz, an intern at Automotive News, tweeted a response to a column by Laura Berman of the Detroit News. Berman’s column, while praising Pugh’s dedication to weight loss, closed the column by saying, “If only he would channel that same missionary spirit to saving the city he’s been elected to help lead.”
Sidorowicz followed suit by tweeting: “Wow, love this little piece. Too bad @Charles_Pugh has been such a disappointment for the city of Detroit so far.” Sidorowicz, a senior at Michigan State and writer for the State News, was quickly bombarded by responses by Pugh for the critical tweet.
When Sidorowicz mentioned whether Pugh’s “celebrity status” was taking precedent over his duties as a public servant, Pugh began to angrily flood his replies with responses, with a couple of them bordering on threats.
“It seems the cat got your tongue or maybe someone cautioned you about spreading BS and lies about someone who might be watching,” Pugh tweeted to Sidorowicz on Sunday. He later tweeted: “You seem to have a bright future. Why don’t you try to make friends, not enemies? You don’t know me.”
It was his previous local celebrity status as a television reporter at Detroit FOX affiliate WJBK and radio host at WJLB that played a large role in his 2009 election, despite his never holding public office. In recent months, Pugh has been under heavy fire from the media and residents has he has produced these elaborate videos while the city itself struggles to stay afloat.
He later tweeted Automotive News, presumably in an attempt to get Sidorowicz either disciplined or fired, “I’d appreciate a word to your intern Josh Sidorowicz about his offensive posts to my page. It doesn’t represent you well.”
Automotive News did not discipline Sidorowicz for the Twitter exchange and he declined comment to theGrio when contacted on Monday evening. In April, the city — which currently operates under a long-term structural debt of an estimated $12 billion — entered into a consent agreement with the state of Michigan to avoid bankruptcy and the appointment of an emergency financial manager.
Detroit’s new budget under Mayor Dave Bing and Pugh’s City Council slashed $250 million in spending, including eliminating 2,500 city jobs — many of them in public safety. Bing announced on Monday that the city would lay off over 160 firefighters next month while the police department has made numerous concessions.
“I have every confidence in [Detroit Fire Commissioner Donald] Austin and the men and woman of the fire department to maintain their highest standards of fire services and public safety for our citizens,” Bing said on Monday. “Laying off any of our courageous and dedicated public safety personnel is the last thing I want to do at this point, but I have to face this hard reality.”
This is not the first instance of Pugh, who graduated from the University of Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, clashing with a journalist. In April, veteran Detroit Free Press reporter Steve Neavling was fired due in part — according to Neavling — to a clash with Pugh during a council meeting.
Pugh also recently argued on Twitter with another Detroit resident who criticized him on Twitter. Dean Simmer, an Anglican pastor in Detroit, went back and forth with Pugh over a four-day span last week, contending that the City Council was “passing the buck” during a lawsuit standoff that could have left the city bankrupt.
Simmer tweeted Sidorowicz in support: “He did this to me the other day, minus the threats regarding my employer. It is disturbing.” Pugh was also unavailable for comment on the matter and there was no word on if there will be any reprimands from the rest of the City Council.
Pugh announced earlier this year that he would not seek a second term as the city transitions into electing the council by districts in 2013. Despite the troubles during his only term in office, it is rumored that Pugh will run for mayor next year.
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith