Catherine Pugh is sworn in as the 50th Mayor of Baltimore City at a ceremony held at the War Memorial. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh made unity the central focus of her inauguration Tuesday. The Democrat was surrounded on stage by leaders from across the state, including Republicans and a past rival.
Pugh, 66, vowed to be "a mayor for all" who will channel investment into long-neglected communities, work to reduce crime and foster thriving schools.
"We understand that downtowns are really important, but so are uptowns and neighborhoods from east to west, north to south," she said. "Every neighborhood deserves to be the greatest."
The former city councilwoman and state senator faces a series of challenges as Baltimore's 50th mayor.
She must battle crime in a city that is likely to record 300 homicides for the second consecutive year, negotiate what's expected to be a multimillion-dollar legal agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to combat police misconduct, and address the city's deep-seated poverty.
She did not offer any specific policy plans during her 10-minute speech Tuesday inside Baltimore's War Memorial. Instead, she devoted much of her time to talking about the relationships she has cultivated with power brokers around the city and state, including Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Several former mayors — including Sheila Dixon, a rival in this year's mayoral election — joined her on the dais.
More than 500 people gathered in the War Memorial for the hourlong event. Pugh, known for her fashion choices, wore a red-and-white, fit-and-flare designer dress. She was sworn in by Court of Appeals Judge Shirley Watts. Pugh's brothers stood at her side.
The Morgan State University Choir performed "God Bless America" and John Legend's "Glory." Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was the ceremony's emcee.
Hogan told those assembled that he and Pugh have a "shared vision for Baltimore."
The governor said he and Pugh want world-class schools, a pro-jobs economic climate and safer communities.
"I could not be more confident that — under her leadership and under a renewed partnership between the governor's office in Annapolis and the leadership in the city of Baltimore — by working together we truly can change Baltimore and Maryland for the better," Hogan said.
Later, Pugh told Hogan she was ready to join him on a trip to Washington, where she wants to ask President-elect Donald Trump to invest federal money in improving Baltimore's infrastructure.
The relationship between Hogan and departing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake grew increasingly strained over time. Rawlings-Blake, who did not seek re-election, was seated next to the lectern but did not speak during the ceremony. Former mayors Thomas D'Alesandro III and Martin O'Malley also attended.
Dixon said she was invited as a "courtesy to former mayors." She narrowly lost to Pugh in the Democratic primary in April and then launched a write-in campaign, garnering more than 50,000 votes in the November election.
"I wanted to participate because you've got to move forward," Dixon said afterward. "It's about being mature and not taking it personal, from my perspective. I try to strive and take the high road. I care about this city and I want the best for the city."
Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said Pugh made it a point to spotlight the importance of partnerships. For example, she seated Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, both Republicans, on the stage.
"Catherine Pugh's work in the legislature demonstrates that she is an individual who is willing to work across party lines to accomplish her goals," Kromer said. "It will be interesting to see if she can actually bring these factions together."
Pugh, a longtime resident of Northwest Baltimore's Ashburton neighborhood, was elected to the state Senate in 2007. She served in the House of Delegates from 2005 to 2007 and on the Baltimore City Council from 1999 to 2004.
A native of Philadelphia, Pugh is one of seven children. She's the daughter of a union laborer in a rubber factory, who died of asbestos exposure 40 years ago. She moved to Baltimore as a young woman to attend Morgan State University.
Pugh has worked in banking, publishing, public relations and journalism. She was dean and director of Strayer's Business College, now known as Strayer University. She co-owns a Pigtown consignment shop, wrote a series of children's books and helped start the city's marathon and the Baltimore Design School, a public middle-high school in East Baltimore.
She spent more than $2.4 million during the campaign for mayor, beating a crowded field in April's Democratic primary and easily winning the November election over Republican Alan Walden, Green Party candidate Joshua Harris and Dixon.
Pugh previously ran for mayor in 2011, losing to Rawlings-Blake.
Her inaugural speech — which she did not write in advance — covered her typical talking points: seeing the "glass as half full, as opposed to half empty" and having a past that prepared her to become mayor. She cited a desire to support business development and an understanding of the plight facing the thousands of city residents who are unemployed or homeless.
"I will be the greatest cheerleader this city will ever have," Pugh said, also pledging to be Baltimore's "servant leader."
City Councilman Brandon Scott said he hopes the new mayor will strike deals with the City Council on several unresolved issues, including whether to sell downtown parking garages to raise money for recreation centers. Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young fought over the proposal.
"She's excited to partner with people, to put aside egos to move the city forward," Scott said of Pugh.
Pugh's inaugural celebration stretched into Tuesday night. Following the swearing-in ceremony, she had a luncheon at the War Memorial and four free community receptions at locations across the city, from the Middle Branch Rowing Club to Cylburn Arboretum in North Baltimore.
Before giving brief remarks at the rowing center, Pugh greeted a group of students at the back of the room from Carter G. Woodson Elementary/Middle School in Cherry Hill.
Their teacher, Melvin Worthington III, said he brought them to hear their new mayor tell them what the future has in store for them.
It was a chance, he said, to give them a positive look at government — "for them to see a real-life expression of how government works for them."
The night's big party at the Hilton Baltimore required tickets, sold for $100 each.
A spokesman said the final cost of the events was still being tallied. The costs will be covered by privately raised money, he said, and any surplus will be donated to a yet-to-be-determined charity.
In one of her first official acts, Pugh is expected to preside over a meeting of the city's spending panel, the Board of Estimates, at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
As her four-year term begins, she faces several high-profile issues left unresolved by Rawlings-Blake, including whether to sell the garages, bring back speed cameras and tear down Baltimore's Confederate-era monuments.
Pugh also must conclude negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice to address police misconduct documented in the agency's scathing investigation released in August. And she must conclude negotiations with the city police union for a new contract.
As top advisers, Pugh has selected former interim city schools CEO Tisha Edwards, Del. Peter Hammen, former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., former Pennsylvania government official Karen Stokes and longtime public affairs professional Anthony McCarthy.
Edwards will be her chief of staff. Hammen will be her chief of operations. Smith will be chief of strategic alliances. Stokes will be director of government relations and McCarthy will be director of communications.
Park Heights resident Ronald Starr took a seat toward the back of the sprawling hall to watch the inauguration. Though the retiree did not support Pugh during the election (he declined to say who voted for), Starr said he stands ready to support her.
Her first task, he said, is dealing with crime.
"I think she's motivated from the heart," Starr said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Erin Cox and Colin Campbell contributed to this article.