Baltimore and Maryland react to Pugh's leave of absence amid 'Healthy Holly' controversy

Mayor Catherine Pugh displays a baby bib, one of several baby products with a healthy lifestyle that she promoted, during a press conference at City Hall. Mayor Pugh discussed the history of her Health Holly book venture.
Mayor Catherine Pugh displays a baby bib, one of several baby products with a healthy lifestyle that she promoted, during a press conference at City Hall. Mayor Pugh discussed the history of her Health Holly book venture. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

A growing chorus of Maryland officials are calling for Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to resign amid new revelations she had multiple deals to sell her line of “Healthy Holly” children’s books.

Pugh’s office issued a statement Monday saying she’d been advised by doctors to go on a leave of absence to recover from a bout of pneumonia that hospitalized her for five days. City Council President Jack Young will assume the role of mayor in her stead.


But she did not address new revelations that she was paid nearly $200,000 by Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities for about 30,000 books. Kaiser was seeking a lucrative contract to provide health benefits to city employees at the time of the sale.

The news comes after Pugh said her only sale was when the University of Maryland Medical System paid her $500,000 for 100,000 books. Pugh was a member on the UMMS board of directors before resigning last month.


The Democratic mayor is facing increasing backlash and calls to resign from Maryland officials, who took to social media to voice their displeasure with Pugh.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot

State Comptroller Peter Franchot was the first statewide office holder to call for Pugh to resign, but he’s known to buck the norms of his Democratic Party.

“The people of Baltimore are facing too many serious challenges, as it is, to also to deal with such brazen, cartoonish corruption from their chief executive,” Franchot wrote.


After Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, directed state prosecutor Emmitt Davitt to conduct a criminal investigation into Pugh’s actions, several prominent Baltimore and state officials released statements about how they feel Pugh should handle the scandal.

On Baltimore’s City Council, there appears to be a split whether Pugh should resign as Council President Jack Young assumes her role as mayor while Pugh is on leave.

Councilman Zeke Cohen

Zeke Cohen, a Democrat, was the first City Council member to call for the mayor to step down.

“I wish Mayor Pugh a speedy recovery as she takes a leave of absence due to her illness,” Councilman Zeke Cohen said. “However, I believe she should fully resign from office. Mayor Pugh has lost the moral mandate to govern and the public’s trust.”

Councilman Brandon Scott

In a statement, Councilman Brandon Scott said the he believes Pugh’s leave of absence “is the right thing for Baltimore,” but also stopped short of calling for her resignation.

“Baltimore must move forward and deserves a Mayor who is able to provide their full attention to the issues facing our city most importantly the continued violence on our streets,” Scott wrote.

Rep. Elijah Cummings

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings wrote in a statement that “there is no doubt we are experiencing some difficult times now” but only asked that the city support Young in assuming the role of mayor.

As Pugh steps away from the office, here’s what other Marylanders are saying about Monday’s news.

Sen. Bill Ferguson

“Today, we share the hurt and disappointment of over 600,000 residents of Baltimore City in light of the current revelations regarding Mayor Pugh. … The next 48 hours will be undeniably challenging for our City: the delegation is committed to championing the City’s interest in this General Assembly,” Ferguson said.

Councilwoman Shannon Sneed

City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, a Democrat who represents East Baltimore’s 13th District, called the news “deeply disturbing,” but did not call on Pugh to resign. Sneed instead voiced her support for a wider reaching investigation.

“An investigation is warranted, not just into Mayor Pugh’s contracts with UMMS, but with every member of the Board of Directors who had a contract with the system they were charged with overseeing, as well as the Board of Directors who were there while these contracts were taking place,” Sneed wrote.

Thiru Vignarajah, former deputy attorney of Maryland

Former deputy attorney general of Maryland Thiru Vignarajah last week suggested that the controversy surrounding the mayor would yield a criminal investigation. He too called for the mayor’s resignation Monday.

“I have no doubt that Mayor Pugh wants the best for Baltimore. It is in this spirit that I am now calling upon Mayor Pugh to resign for the sake of the city I know she loves,” Vignarajah wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.

Del. Kathy Szeliga

Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican representing Baltimore and Harford countries, said, “the people of Baltimore City deserve better,” in a Facebook post.

“Major Pugh needs to resign. … This reflects badly on our City and the State of Maryland,” Szeliga wrote.

Councilman Ryan Dorsey

Councilman Ryan Dorsey called the mayor an “embarrassment to the city,” in a tweet before throwing his support behind ex officio Mayor Young.

“Government operations have not worked under [Pugh’s] lack of leadership and vision. I’m glad to see her step aside, and I look forward to her stepping down,” Dorsey said. “I look forward to Mayor Young’s leadership.”


Dorsey went on to say, “pretty sure this leave of absence is only to allow Mayor Pugh use holding office as leverage while negotiating resignation terms. Not resigning immediately is use of the office in a hostage manner. Still self-serving. It’s disgusting.”


DeRay Mckesson, activist

Activist DeRay Mckesson, in replying to a tweet from Maryland Green Party Secretary Andy Ellis, simply wrote, “too much power with everyone but the public.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun