Baltimore’s new mayor has vowed to clean up the city after being thrust into office by his predecessor’s resignation amid corruption investigations, but he inherits serious, longstanding problems that have plagued previous administrations.
Bernard “Jack” Young, a longtime leader of the City Council, says he intends to serve only the remainder of former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s term and has no interest in running for mayor in 2020. If the Democrat doesn’t change his mind, his tenure would last just 1 ½ years.
“I wish him good luck, but I’m reserving my full support because he seems apprehensive about being the mayor in the first place,” said Clayton “Mr. C” Guyton, a respected community organizer featured in “Charm City,” a recent documentary about Baltimore shot amid its ongoing scourge of intense violence.
Young had been Baltimore’s interim leader since April 2, when Pugh departed on an indefinite leave for what her lawyer has said was poor health after a bout of pneumonia. Pugh stepped down a month later, mired in a scandal that’s put her in the crosshairs of federal, state and city investigators trying to unravel the murky financial arrangements of her self-published children’s books.
“Baltimore deserves a mayor who can move our great city forward,” Pugh said in a written statement read by her lawyer, Steven Silverman.
After the upheaval, Baltimore residents say they hope Young might at least continue to be a steady hand. The East Baltimore native was first elected to the City Council in 1996.
“I’m just hoping he’s got a better understanding of how to fix stuff. The city is a mess, and we need all kinds of change,” Mark Jones said outside his East Baltimore barber shop.
After Pugh’s stunning collapse Thursday, Baltimore city employees pulled down her portraits and updated websites as the city shifts into a new era under Young.
In a phone interview, Young told The Associated Press he’s ready to make changes and is focused on reducing one of the country’s highest rates of violent crime and tidying up the city’s streets. He aims to bring more investments and jobs, particularly to its most deeply disenfranchised neighborhoods.
“I’m determined to make a dent. I’m not a placeholder — I’m the mayor now. And I’m going to run the city like the mayor,” Young said from Detroit, where’s he’s attending a conference about economic development before his return to Baltimore over the weekend.
Even in a city accustomed to turmoil, Pugh’s rapid unraveling was stunning.
In late March, during a brief stint back at City Hall after being diagnosed with pneumonia, Pugh described her no-contract $500,000 arrangement to sell her “Healthy Holly” books to a university-based health care system as a “regrettable mistake” and offered apologies. A few days later, she announced her indefinite leave of absence hours after the state’s governor requested a public corruption investigation into Pugh.
Other customers included a Maryland financier who divulged that his financial firm decided to write a $100,000 check for “Health Holly” books after she clinched the 2016 Democratic primary. He insisted he expected nothing in return. She also sold tens of thousands of books to customers including a $4 billion hospital network she once helped oversee and health carriers with business before the city.
Pugh’s resignation came exactly a week after her offices, homes and multiple other locations were raided by FBI and IRS agentsand it became clear that a federal grand jury has been empaneled.
She is the second Baltimore mayor in less than a decade to step down because of scandal . She came to office contrasting her clean image with her main opponent, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who was forced to depart office in 2010 as part of a plea deal for misappropriating about $500 in gift cards meant for needy families.
Since the book scandal erupted, Pugh’s fractured administration has lurched from one crisis to another and various aides have been fired or left City Hall. Young declined to say if more Pugh-era employees would soon be fired for any reason.
The Rev. Douglas Miles, co-chairman of the prominent BUILD advocacy group, is hopeful Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” saga offers Baltimore an opportunity to get serious about bringing real change. He argues that the last time the city had a clear vision or strategy that transcended a single political leader was the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor in the 1970s and ’80s
“We can no longer operate as two Baltimores. There has to be one Baltimore with one common vision, with strategies designed to make that vision reality. Anything less than that, in three years we’ll be right back where we are now with another hiccup giving the city a black eye,” he said.
After the mess left by Pugh, a Democrat, the Maryland Republican Party believes it might have a better shot in Maryland’s biggest city, where the Democratic nomination has long been as good as being elected.
“Baltimore City has been hampered by one-party rule for far too long. … We look forward to presenting an alternative to the status quo next year,” Chairman Dirk Haire said Friday.