Maryland officials call on Baltimore Mayor Pugh to resign over Healthy Holly book deal

Maryland officials called on Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to resign immediately, after The Baltimore Sun reported Monday that insurer Kaiser Permanente had also bought copies of her self-published Healthy Holly books.

City Solicitor Andre Davis said Pugh would take a leave of absence in the face of mounting pressure to resign over her controversial book deals. The mayor’s office said Pugh’s announced absence was due to “deteriorating health.”

“She is unable to fulfill her obligations as Mayor of Baltimore City. To that end, Mayor Pugh will be taking an indefinite leave of absence to recuperate from this serious illness.”

State Comptroller Peter Franchot was the first to call for the mayor’s ouster linking to The Sun’s report on his Facebook page saying, “The Mayor has to resign — now.”

Ongoing Coverage | Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh's "Healthy Holly" book deals »

“The people of Baltimore are facing too many serious challenges, as it is, to also to deal with such brazen, cartoonish corruption from their chief executive,” Franchot wrote.

Franchot, a Democrat, is the first statewide officeholder to call for Pugh to step down, but he is known to buck the party establishment.

Former deputy attorney general of Maryland Thiru Vignarajah last week suggested that the controversy surrounding the mayor would yield a criminal investigation. He too called for the mayor’s resignation Monday.

“I have no doubt that Mayor Pugh wants the best for Baltimore. It is in this spirit that I am now calling upon Mayor Pugh to resign for the sake of the city I know she loves,” Vignarajah wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.

He also called for University of Maryland Medical System CEO Robert A. Chrencik to step down. Chrencik was placed on paid leave last Thursday amid the investigations into accusations of self-dealing.

“It is not right to blame the Mayor alone when others clearly enabled her conduct,” Vignarajah added.

Kaiser Permanente confirmed Monday that it had paid $114,000 to Pugh’s Healthy Holly company to buy some 20,000 copies of the books, which promote good diet and exercise.

Pugh was already mired in controversy over the books after it was revealed that the University of Maryland Medical System paid her $500,000 for the books between 2011 and 2018 at a time when she was one of the hospital network’s board members.

Pugh has previously said that only UMMS bought books and has not answered questions about the newly disclosed deal with Kaiser. It was ongoing at a time when the company was a bidding on a $48 million city health insurance contract in 2017.

Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican representing Baltimore and Harford countries, said, “the people of Baltimore City deserve better,” in a Facebook post.

“Major Pugh needs to resign. … This reflects badly on our City and the State of Maryland,” Szeliga wrote.

Councilman Zeke Cohen, a Democrat, was the first City Council member to call for Pugh to step down.

“I wish Mayor Pugh a speedy recovery as she takes a leave of absence due to her illness,” Councilman Zeke Cohen said. “However, I believe she should fully resign from office. Mayor Pugh has lost the moral mandate to govern and the public’s trust.”

iduncan@baltsun.com

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Baltimore Sun content editor Nick DiMarco contributed to this report.

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