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Dan Rodricks Commentary and conversation on life in Baltimore, Maryland and the USA

Rodricks: Healthy Holly could become Haunting Holly for Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh

And with that — a 93-word statement of resignation from the board of the University of Maryland Medical System — the mayor of Baltimore moved on to other matters or, in her words, “pressing concerns that require my full attention, energy and efforts.” Unfortunately, “Healthy Holly” is going to be “Haunting Holly” for some time.

Bookgate is the kind of thing Baltimore voters are likely to remember — or be reminded of — next year when they consider Catherine Pugh for a second term in City Hall.

Selling copies of her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books to the hospital network while sitting on its 30-member board was bad enough, a kind of self-dealing that grossed a lot of people out. And there are at least eight other volunteer board members who also had business with the hospitals.

But Pugh’s response to these revelations, as first reported by The Baltimore Sun, was about as bad as it could be.

Everything was aboveboard, she said, because she had fully disclosed the book deal. But she did not acknowledge the elephantine ethical issue in the room — that it was a conflict of interest.

Let’s go back to the first reporting on this by Sun reporter Luke Broadwater. On Wednesday, in a statement to the press about the book sales, the mayor acknowledged selling UMMS 20,000 copies at a profit of $100,000. Then she corrected that statement. “The gross revenue of $100,000 listed as ‘profits’ in my Board disclosure was incorrect,” she said.

The 100 large referred to revenue, not profits.

OK. I suppose that could have been a simple mistake.

But then the mayor’s office had to make another amendment to Pugh’s disclosures.

By Thursday, the numbers had ballooned to a breathtaking level: Pugh’s Healthy Holly LLC had sold UMMS 100,000 copies of the books, netting her $100,000 from five orders since 2011.

So the mayor had only been 20 percent candid with us.

That Pugh was not forthcoming out of the box — that she did not volunteer the higher figures from the start of conversations with Broadwater — further damages her credibility. I mean, come on: If you sold 100,000 copies of a book, you’d remember that. It would be up there with your wedding or birth of a child. To any writer, getting a deal for 100,000 books would be a life-changing, talent-affirming, Beemer-buying bonanza. You could tell everyone you’re a best-selling author.

So Pugh dug herself a deeper hole with the changing story.

Then, on Monday, she announced her resignation from the UMMS board without addressing the ethical questions raised in the last week. It’s not about whether she filed the correct forms or made full disclosures. It’s about the act itself, conducting business with an entity she oversaw as a board member, making a nice chunk of change from a series of books not otherwise in demand, and I don’t care how “excellent” the CEO of UMMS says they are.

So, next question: What has all this to do with being mayor? Could it hurt Pugh in her presumed run for a second term next year? Nobody asked me, but, yeah, I would say so. Baltimore voters already impatient with the Pugh administration, specifically over the rate of progress on crime and fixing what’s broken in the Police Department, are going to remember this episode.

And, should they forget by 2020, other candidates will likely be there to remind them.

It must be owing to the alignment of moon and sun that Harry Roe Hughes, who four decades ago parlayed a principled stand against sleaze to become Maryland governor, died the same day that we learned about the self-dealing among members of the UMMS board.

In fact, if Jill Carter and/or Bill Ferguson, both state senators from the city, were to decide to challenge Pugh in the Democratic primary next year, they would be following an example that Hughes established.

Carter filed a bill in the Maryland General Assembly to prohibit UMMS board members from profiting from the hospital system. Ferguson on Monday said Pugh should return all the money she made from “Healthy Holly” to UMMS.

Back in 1977, it was Harry Hughes who stood up to call out an unsavory practice. Hughes was the state transportation secretary during the Agnew-Mandel era, in the 1970s, a period when several Maryland politicians faced federal corruption charges. In the midst of all that, the state prepared to build the Metro that runs from Owings Mills into Baltimore.

Hughes sensed something foul in the awarding of a multimillion-dollar contract for the management of the subway construction. When the stench intensified, he resigned to highlight the specific influence of an old-school contractor who was trying to subvert a process that had been reformed in the wake of earlier corruption.

A year later, sick of sleaze, Marylanders made Harry Hughes their governor, and he served honorably for two terms.

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