Friends of former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh say her health has improved but that she’s continuing to keep a low public profile until the investigations concerning her self-published book deals are complete.
“Physically she’s much better,” says Mark McLaurin, political director of the local Service Employees International Union and a friend of Pugh’s. “She’s nearly back to 100 percent. People think that was all a scam, but she was really, really sick.”
One friend said Pugh, a fitness buff, has begun going for walks and even running again. (As mayor, she used to wake up early to go running every morning.)
“She’s under doctor’s care and making progress,” said another friend, Betty Clark. “I see her on a regular basis. She’s trying to put together a normal life.” Pugh has also traveled to Pennsylvania to visit family, friends say.
Pugh’s lawyer, Steven Silverman, did not respond to requests to interview the former mayor for this article. In a recent interview, Silverman said Pugh is entitled to her privacy since she is no longer running the city.
“She’s a private person now,” Silverman said.
Pugh was elected the 50th mayor of Baltimore in 2016, fulfilling a career dream. She won the post after narrowly defeating former mayor Sheila Dixon in the Democratic primary.
Pugh’s tenure as mayor was hampered by an inability to reduce crime. The city recorded more than 300 homicides in both 2017 and last year.
But she tore down public monuments to the Confederacy, created an investment fund to help lure development to Baltimore’s most troubled neighborhoods, and eventually hired former New Orleans police chief Michael Harrison as Baltimore’s new police commissioner. Harrison recently released a plan he said will reduce the city’s crime rate.
Shortly after hiring Harrison, though, Pugh resigned amid intense public scrutiny over her sale of self-published children’s books to entities with business relationships with the city.
The Sun documented that Pugh had received at least $800,000 for her “Healthy Holly” books, including $500,000 from the medical system. Others paying for her books included health insurers Kaiser Permanente and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.
“I’m sorry for the harm that I have caused to the image of the city of Baltimore and the credibility of the office of the mayor,” she said in a statement read by her lawyer. “Baltimore deserves a mayor who can move our great city forward."
McLaurin, who has communicated with the former mayor through an intermediary but not directly, said he doesn’t believe Pugh has fully come to terms with resigning from office.
“She is not in the right head space. She’s not particularly rational about what happened and why,” he said. “I don’t think she learned the lesson she needed to learn.”
The book deals are the subject of multiple investigations, including probes by the FBI, IRS and the Maryland State Prosecutor’s office.
In late April, dozens of federal law enforcement agents raided homes, businesses and government buildings across Baltimore as part of an investigation into Pugh’s business dealings.
FBI agents and IRS officials executed search warrants at her City Hall office, Pugh’s two houses, and offices of the mayor’s allies. Agents were seen carrying out boxes of “Healthy Holly” books and other documents. Among the items seized during the raids were a check from the University of Maryland Medical System and documentation from the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development about the Maryland Center for Adult Training, a nonprofit organization that Pugh helped lead for years.
Pugh’s friends say it’s difficult for her to move forward until her legal issues are resolved.