Embattled Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) announced Monday she is taking a leave of absence, citing deteriorating health. After fighting pneumonia in the hospital last week, Pugh "feels as though she is unable to fulfill her obligations as mayor" and "will be taking an indefinite leave of absence to recuperate from this serious illness," her office said in a statement. City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young (D) will be acting mayor while Pugh is on leave.
It was lost on nobody that her leave coincided with an escalating scandal involving sales of her self-published children's books to companies and organizations that work with or get funding from the city or state.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) released a letter Monday afternoon asking the state prosecutor to launch a criminal investigation into the "deeply disturbing allegations" about Pugh's questionable book sales. He focused on the University of Maryland Medical System's no-contract $500,000 purchase of 100,000 of Pugh's "Healthy Holly" books between 2012 and 2018, noting that UMMS "has significant continuing ties with the state and receives very substantial public funding." Pugh was elected mayor in 2016, and she sat on the UMMS board from 2001 until she resigned in March.
Also Monday, The Baltimore Sun reported that Kaiser Permanente purchased roughly 20,000 "Healthy Holly" books from Pugh for $114,000 between 2015 and 2018, including while it was bidding for a $48 million contract to provide health insurance to Baltimore city employees; a city spending board controlled by Pugh approved that contract in September 2017, with Pugh voting in favor. Kaiser noted Monday it has offered a health plan to Baltimore city employees since 1986.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) said Pugh "has to resign — now. The people of Baltimore are facing too many serious challenges, as it is, to also deal with such brazen, cartoonish corruption from their chief executive." Some Baltimore City Council members also called on Pugh to quit, and a few said they didn't expect her to return to the job.