Friends of former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh says her health has improved, but she’s continuing to keep a low public profile until the investigations concerning her self-published book deals are complete. In this file photo, media stand outside Pugh's house as FBI and IRS agents execute a search warrant inside.
Friends of former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh says her health has improved, but she’s continuing to keep a low public profile until the investigations concerning her self-published book deals are complete. In this file photo, media stand outside Pugh's house as FBI and IRS agents execute a search warrant inside. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

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.

In the weeks before she stepped down as mayor amid scandal in early May, the 69-year-old Pugh had been hospitalized with pneumonia. Friends who have visited and spoken with her recently say her health is much better and that she is thinking about what to do next in life.

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“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.

Mayor Catherine Pugh displayed documents and products relating to her Health Holly book business, and the healthy lifestyle baby products that she promoted, during a City Hall press conference.
Mayor Catherine Pugh displayed documents and products relating to her Health Holly book business, and the healthy lifestyle baby products that she promoted, during a City Hall press conference.

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 deals were revealed in a series of articles in The Baltimore Sun that began March 13. Pugh’s story shifted as she tried to account for the first deal to be disclosed, struck with the University of Maryland Medical System when she was a member of the hospital network’s board.

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.

Calls for her to resign poured in from the City Council, state legislators, the governor and the business community. Pugh resigned May 1, apologizing for tarnishing the city’s image.

Mayor Catherine Pugh displays a baby bib, one of several baby products with a healthy lifestyle that she promoted, during a press conference at City Hall. Mayor Pugh discussed the history of her Health Holly book venture, and apologized to the University of Maryland Medical System for any negative light cast on that institution as a result of her book sales.
Mayor Catherine Pugh displays a baby bib, one of several baby products with a healthy lifestyle that she promoted, during a press conference at City Hall. Mayor Pugh discussed the history of her Health Holly book venture, and apologized to the University of Maryland Medical System for any negative light cast on that institution as a result of her book sales. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

“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.

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“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.

“Physically she’s just about 100 percent back. She’s trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life," McLaurin said. "She’s waiting to see what’s going to happen.”

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