Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s bizarre tenure in office came to an end Thursday, when she resigned amid a cloud of scandal and scrutiny over, of all things, a self-published series of children’s books. Scandal erupted in March when the Baltimore Sun reported that the sale of Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” books raised serious ethical and legal questions. The books themselves are harmless, featuring a young black protagonist Holly and positive themes of healthy eating and exercise, but it’s the whopping $700,000 the series netted Pugh that caused problems. In the six weeks since the story broke, the 69-year-old Democrat has faced raids of her home and City Hall office, and has taken an extended leave of absence from office as the stories of apparent impropriety continued to pile up.
The number of copies sold by Pugh is a staggering haul for 99 percent of authors, much less a self-published one, where sales can often range in the hundreds to low thousands. The extraordinary success of the books authored by someone holding public office raised questions about who, exactly, was buying the books—and why. It turns out the books were bought in large chunks by entities that had business before the government that Pugh had influence over—first in the statehouse and then in the mayor’s office.
The University of Maryland Medical System, for instance, paid Pugh $500,000 for an order of 100,000 books. The order was filled in installments of 20,000 beginning in 2011. “Joseph Cohen, vice president of Kromar Printing in Winnipeg, Manitoba, said his company was paid between $13,000 and $15,000 for each of the 20,000-book orders it completed,” the Washington Post reports. That means Pugh was clearing close to $85,000 per batch of books depending on shipping and other associated costs. At the time, Push was a state senator and also on the hospital network’s board. In the statehouse, Pugh was on a committee that provided some funding to the hospital network.
Kaiser Permanente also paid Pugh, who was elected mayor in 2016, more than $100,000 for another 20,000 copies. In 2017, the health care provider landed a $48 million contract with the city of Baltimore. The Associated Black Charities ponied up another $80,000 for 10,000 copies. With federal and state investigations digging deeper into the financial mess, Pugh submitted her resignation Thursday. “I am sorry for the harm I have caused to the image of the city of Baltimore and the credibility of the office of the mayor,” she said in the statement. “Baltimore deserves a mayor that can move our great city forward.”