Baltimore city council president takes reins of city as embattled mayor deals with book controversy
As the city's mayor moves aside for health concerns, despite a scandal surrounding her, an interim substitute pledges to continue where she left off
The president of Baltimore’s City Council, Bernard C. “Jack” Young has taken over the daily operations of the city as its ex-officio mayor while its sitting mayor Catherine Pugh takes an indefinite leave of absence.
Pugh stepped down Monday amid a growing controversy regarding a book deal with the University of Maryland Medical System that has fallen under intense scrutiny. But the reason she gave cited heath concerns.
Members of the Baltimore City Council say they have faith that Young will fulfill responsibilities of the role. According to Baltimore station WBAL, Young says he is confident in filling in for Mayor Pugh, assuring the city delegation in a meeting.
“I’ve been doing this for the last two years, making the wheels turn, and it’s going to continue to turn. I look forward to just running the city of Baltimore until the mayor either returns, or if the mayor decides not to come back, then I’m ready to just take over the helms and just run this city,” Young said.
Although he hasn’t spoken publicly about the book controversy, Young said in a statement on Monday that he is “utterly heartbroken” about the developments.
“I plan to spend my first day as ex-officio mayor attending a number of internal meetings and public events,” he said. “Lastly, I understand how traumatizing this has all been for the people of Baltimore. I take my responsibilities seriously and look forward to serving as a stabilizing force.”
Pugh, a Democrat who became mayor in 2016, is being scrutinized over a sale to UMMS of 20,000 copies of the “Healthy Holly” children’s books she authored at $5 each. She was paid a total of $500,000 by the University of Maryland Medical System since 2011 to produce the books, which were distributed to school children in Baltimore.
However, Pugh was a member of the UMMS Board of Directors. A news investigation by The Baltimore Sun brought allegations of self-dealing and no-bid contracting prompting her to resign from the board in mid-March. She has since faced a calls for a criminal investigation from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. Additional companies such as Kaiser Permanente have confirmed purchasing books from Pugh’s LLC from 2015 to 2018. The company is one of the health care providers for city employees.
Still, a statement from the mayor’s office reveals Mayor Pugh has been suffering from pneumonia for the past few weeks and has been advised from physicians to have a period to focus on her wellness.
“At this time, with the mayor’s health deteriorating, she feels as though she is unable to fulfill her obligations as mayor of Baltimore City. To that end, Mayor Pugh will be taking an indefinite leave of absence to recuperate from this serious illness,” the statement reads, without addressing the book controversy.