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Baltimore Mayor Pugh intends to return to work once her health permits, spokesman says

After stepping aside in the midst of a scandal over sales of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh intends to return from her leave of absence once her health allows, her spokesman said Saturday.

Pugh announced last Monday that she was taking an indefinite leave of absence to recover from a bout of pneumonia for which she was hospitalized for five days.

It has been unclear since then what her plans were, and she has not been seen in public. But James Bentley, Pugh’s spokesman, said Saturday that she intends to return to her duties as mayor.

“She’s working to get better so she can come back,” Bentley said. “That is the goal. She is working to get back.”

“Her health is improving. It is getting better. Not as fast as she would like.”

Bentley said Pugh had not put a date on when she would return but that it wouldn’t be Monday.

Since Pugh went on leave, the controversy over her book sales has continued to grow. Gov. Larry Hogan called on the Maryland State Prosecutor to investigate Pugh’s no-bid deal with the University of Maryland Medical System, on whose board she sat, to sell 100,000 books for $500,000. The State Prosecutor has begun an investigation, according to Pugh’s lawyer.

On Wednesday, the Baltimore Ethics Board voted to open its own investigation of her book sales.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot and City Councilman Zeke Cohen, both fellow Democrats, have issued calls for Pugh to resign.

New funders of the book project, which features a girl who promotes exercise and good diet, have also emerged.

Associated Black Charities, businessman JP Grant, Kaiser Permanente, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and the quasi-public Maryland Auto Insurance Fund have all said they made payments to Pugh’s Healthy Holly LLC, joining the medical system.

In total, the amount now known to have been paid to Pugh’s book company by high-profile organizations or people has reached $800,000. Most of the purchasers had business interests that Pugh could influence in her role as mayor or in her prior position as a state senator.

Pugh held a news conference the week before she stepped aside apologizing for the UMMS deal, but made no mention of other funders of her books. She has declined to release records to show how the money she received has been used or how many total books have been printed.

During Pugh’s absence, Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has been filling in as mayor, following rules spelled out in the city charter.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said the council president’s team is, “just focused on doing the work of keeping government functioning.”

iduncan@baltsun.com

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