Baltimore, which has already long struggled with police leadership stability amid a steadily high crime rate, was now also facing serious turmoil at the top ranks of its political leadership.
With Mayor Catherine Pugh‘s health issues forcing her to take a leave of absence last week, the Baltimore City Council sent a letter Monday calling for her resignation.
“The entire membership of the Baltimore City Council believes that it is not in the best interest of the City of Baltimore for you to continue to serve as Mayor. We urge you to tender your resignation, effective immediately,” stated the letter signed by all 14 council members except acting Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
The letter came one day after a spokesperson for Pugh insisted she would return to City Hall.
Pugh, who has clashed in the past with the City Council on policy issues, has been at the center of a political storm while she’s on medical leave battling pneumonia. She’s engulfed in a scandal and investigation over sales of her children’s books, which promote healthy living for Black kids, to entities that do business with the city. Critics have called the financial deals a possible conflict of interest, but Pugh said it was a “regrettable mistake.”
The 69-year-old was sworn into office in 2016 as Baltimore’s third Black woman mayor. The Philadelphia native who came to Baltimore as a Morgan State University student said she planned to focus her attention on community development, job creation and crime reduction.
From the beginning of her tenure, Pugh and City Councilmembers had a difficult relationship, Roger Hartley, dean of the public affairs school at the University of Baltimore, told the Los Angeles Times.
Many of the council members wanted to see more progressive policies from Pugh, such as raising the minimum wage, spending on after-school programs and sentencing reform for gun possession offenders.
“It’s not the same old Baltimore politics,” Hartley said in 2017. “She’s going to have to bend to the interests of these council members and vice versa. I think we’re seeing the kind of political change that people voted for.”
At the same time, it has been an uphill battle for Pugh to reduce crime in Baltimore, which has been dubbed America’s most dangerous big city. In January, Pugh tapped New Orleans’ police chief Michael Harrison as the city’s fifth police chief in four years.
City Councilman Brandon Scott released a statement Monday, saying in part that, “Baltimore deserves a Mayor who can focus on reducing crime, improving our schools and restoring trust in our government.”
The acting mayor could end up being Pugh’s successor. Young has insisted that he’s only temporarily filling in for Pugh, but he’s well-liked by fellow council members.
Young, 64, was first elected to the City Council in 1996. He was unanimously voted city council president to fill the remaining term of former City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in 2010 when she took over as mayor after Sheila Dixon resigned following a scandal.