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Mayor Catherine Pugh must resign

Faced with a deepening scandal surrounding sales of her self-published children’s books and a catastrophic loss of public confidence, Mayor Catherine Pugh must resign. She has been unable or unwilling to present a credible defense of her business dealings, she is under ethics and criminal investigations, and, in what must be regarded as the final straw, all 14 members of the City Council signed a letter demanding her resignation. Under these circumstances, she cannot possibly hope to govern effectively.

We appreciate Mayor Pugh’s passion for Baltimore and her fierce commitment to the job. And we know it must be difficult for her to cope with the recent swirl of events amid her recovery from a hospitalization for pneumonia. Her insistence that she will return when her health allows (voiced most recently in an early-morning phone call Monday with Ex-Officio Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and a statement just before noon) is entirely within character, but it would be a real disservice to the city and its residents.

We recognize that events in this case have unfolded with shocking rapidity. Whereas it took years between the first reporting of unethical behavior by former Mayor Sheila Dixon until her resignation from office in 2010a period that included an indictment, trial and guilty verdict — Ms. Pugh’s mayorship has unraveled in a matter of weeks. But at no point during the Dixon saga did anything like the unanimous demand for a resignation by the City Council take place. Perhaps it should have, and it may be because of that experience that the council members — young and ambitious ones and mature veterans alike — have come to this conclusion.

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The city is in the calm, steady hands of Mr. Young, who has shown an admirable selflessness in his assumption of his unexpected role as acting mayor. That Mr. Young has no personal ambition to run for mayor and has steered clear of joining or opposing the council members in their call for the mayor’s resignation — to do otherwise, he says, would invariably be viewed as self-serving — gives us confidence. So does his effort to walk the difficult tightrope of maintaining the general direction of Ms. Pugh’s policies amid the uncertainty about her intentions. But in a meeting Monday morning with The Sun’s editorial board, Mr. Young conceded, “Her ability to govern would be very difficult. Let’s face it, how would she get anything done?”

He’s right. Baltimore can’t afford a leader with no political capital who is distracted by a fight for her own survival rather than the city’s. She says that under the advice of her attorney she will not answer the many, many remaining questions about the book sales. Baltimore cannot endure her leadership under such a cloud. Nor can it afford the uncertainty of a mayor’s prolonged leave of absence with no clarity about whether or when she might return. For the good of the city, Mayor Pugh must resign.

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