Baltimore Mayor Takes ‘Indefinite Leave of Absence’ After Children’s Book Scandal

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, a Democrat who has held the post since 2016, announced Monday that she will step away from her job indefinitely. The announcement comes amid mounting backlash following a no-bid book deal with the University of Maryland Medical System for a children’s book Pugh penned, despite also serving on its board.

Pugh’s office, however, said pneumonia is the real reason for her leave of absence. "She has been advised by her physicians that she needs to take time to recover and focus on her health," Pugh's office said in a statement. "With the Mayor's health deteriorating, she feels as though she is unable to fulfill her obligations as Mayor of Baltimore City." According to news station WBAL-TV, Pugh raked in as much as $500,000 from the sale of her books. Pugh struck a deal for the distribution of her book Healthy Holly, then called the move “a regrettable mistake” during a press conference last week. Her office pointed out that she stepped down from the board and returned $100,000 for a fifth order of the book.

Health provider Kaiser Permanente also paid more than $100,000 to purchase nearly 20,000 of Pugh’s books while she was seeking a contract to provide health benefits to city employees, The Baltimore Sun reported. Kaiser Permanente added that it bought and distributed Health Holly, among other titles, for families and children across Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia since 2015. “We have purchased and distributed about 20,000 Healthy Holly books, at a cost of approximately $114,000,” according to The Sun.

Likewise, the nonprofit Associated Black Charities said it collected approximately $90,000 from five separate entities, including CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield — another health care provider for the city of Baltimore. This deal helped secure and distribute 10,000 of Pugh’s books. The decision to step down took place on the same day Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued a letter to the Office of the State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, requesting an investigation into the sales of Pugh’s book.

"All Marylanders have an expectation that their public officials as well as individuals involved with institutions that are funded by and closely related to the State, will follow the highest legal and ethical standards," Hogan wrote. “I understand and expect that you will fully investigate the matters that have been reported and that you will take all appropriate legal action in the event that your investigation uncovers any criminal wrongdoing.”

Meanwhile, Bernard C. “Jack” Young has been named ex-officio mayor of Baltimore and has called himself a “placeholder” in this position until a final decision is reached. "Baltimore is in good hands. I've been doing this for the last 21 years, making the wheels turn, and it's going to continue to turn," Young said. "I look forward to just running the city of Baltimore until the mayor either returns, or if the mayor decides not to come back, then I'm ready to just take over the helms and just run this city."

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review,, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.