Mayor Pugh, UMMS, Kaiser Permanente, Associated Black Charities need to answer some hard questions

Listen to this article

Mayor Catherine Pugh (Photo by Mike Jordan)

BALTIMORE  – This city, feeling pretty crummy with each new revelation about Mayor Catherine Pugh, attempted the other evening to console itself by recalling the ghost of William Donald Schaefer.

If only we could recall him at the ballot box, as well as in our memories.

We’ll be on the hunt for a new mayor soon enough.

They unveiled a huge portrait of the former four-term Mayor Schaefer at the National Aquarium here, in a painting by the great Joseph Sheppard.

It’s Schaefer in his iconic public moment when he donned a turn-of-the-century bathing suit and a straw hat and swam with a fetching mermaid and a bunch of seals at the ceremonial opening of the aquarium 38 years ago.

That was Schaefer at his best – poking fun at himself, creating a party atmosphere, helping a city laugh its way through a tough time. Whatever our problems, we knew we had a clean mayor at City Hall.

And we can’t count on that anymore.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been watching the slow financial undressing of Mayor Catherine Pugh, who pocketed at least $800,000 for some “Healthy Holly” children’s books she wrote with typos and then managed to sell to several institutions which just happened to be looking for big municipal contracts.

The biggest payday came from the University of Maryland Medical System, which handed over $500,000 for 100,000 books – many of which were either lost in traffic or never even got printed.

But it’s not just the mayor who needs to be questioned here. What were the folks at UMMS thinking? And the folks at Kaiser Permanente, who handed over six-figure money? And the folks at Associated Black Charities?

Is this the way the game is routinely fixed, where city contracts are awarded on the basis of bribery?

Last week, Pugh’s entire city council called for her to resign. So did the entire city delegation to the General Assembly, and so did the influential Greater Baltimore Committee. Gov. Hogan has called for an investigation.

Public indignation has been widespread. But Pugh, who’s been out on medical leave since the story started making big headlines, has said she’s looking forward to returning to her mayoral duties.

Maybe, maybe not. Such a statement feels more like the opening bid in a labor negotiation, in which Pugh says, You let me keep my pension, you keep me out of jail, and only then will I agree to step down and avoid the nasty stories I might tell about other officials.

All of this comes at a time when the city’s feeling particularly dreary. We’ve watched a succession of police commissioners come and go. The homicides and drug traffic continue to plague entire neighborhoods. The schools are a mess. We’re about to lose the Preakness.

And we have a mayor who told a bunch of institutions wishing to do municipal business that they could help the city’s troubled children by buying a little book about healthy eating and exercise.

That’s why it was nice to see the Schaefer painting unveiled the other night. We had plenty of problems during his years at City Hall – hell, that’s the nature of cities, one problem after another.

But there was joy mixed in, as well. It was the time of the Baltimore City Fairs, and ethnic festivals, and dollar houses that rejuvenated previously-decaying neighborhoods, and Tall Ships and something called Harborplace where there had once been rotting piers.

And there was a mayor in a straw hat and a turn-of-the-century bathing suit outside the brand new aquarium, and he could drive us all crazy sometimes – but we never doubted that he was clean, whether he was swimming in a pool or not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.