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Apology aside, Pugh is stuck with how the Healthy Holly book deal looks, and it's not good

Mayor Catherine Pugh holds a press conference about her "Healthy Holly" books. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)

Nobody asked me, but if Catherine Pugh felt so strongly about childhood obesity — getting kids to exercise and eat nutritious food — how come most of Baltimore never heard about her brainchild, Healthy Holly, until two weeks ago?

Pugh has the fitness bug; we knew that. In 2000, she helped bring back the Baltimore marathon, now part of the Baltimore Running Festival. At some point since then, while serving as both a Maryland senator and a board member of the University of Maryland Medical System, she created her first Healthy Holly book as a way to deliver a much-needed health message to children.

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“I started working on the Healthy Holly concept more than a decade ago after attending a conference on childhood health and obesity, and, for several years, I put a great deal of time and my own money into developing it,” Pugh said in a statement last week. “It was a project that I was passionate about.”

So passionate she hardly ever mentioned it?

Ask any author — either someone with a deal with a mainstream publisher, or someone who self-publishes a book — you need to do everything possible to market your work. You promote it in social media. You send copies to newspapers and to radio interviewers. You ask libraries and bookstores to host promotional events. (Full disclosure: I’ve been doing some of this lately in anticipation of the publication of a book.) You or your publisher might even pay for advertising.

Catherine Pugh has a record of promoting things — the marathon, the Fish Out of Water art campaign, the Baltimore Design School — so you’d think she would do everything possible to get Health Holly’s message out there.

She ran for state Senate and she ran for mayor a couple of times, and, while she apparently passed out some books on the campaign trail in 2011, I don’t recall ever hearing about Holly. And, as we know now, as a state senator, she did not report her book deal with UMMS to the state ethics commission until after The Baltimore Sun exposed it.

So, however well-intended her children’s book project, it still smells of a self-serving inside deal with UMMS, apparently her only customer for the books. Even with her apology, Pugh is stuck with how this looks.

Before Healthy Holly broke onto the scene, I was going to say this: The last thing Baltimore needs is to lose the Preakness.

But that’s just part of the story.

We’re headed into April 2019 — four years since the Freddie Gray April, and three years since the last city primary election (April 2016). The last thing Baltimore needs is further delay in the urgent civic mission to make the city safer, the schools more successful, more housing more affordable, and citizens more confident that their government is responsive and earnest, that their mayor is competent and honest.

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