In November 2016, when Catherine Pugh won the election to become the 50th mayor of the city of Baltimore, the smoke was still settling from the 2015 Baltimore uprising, a response to the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody under questionable circumstances. She inherited a city reeling from rampant corruption within its police department, rising violent crime levels, and a long-festering opioid/heroin crisis. Other, more chronic problems—poverty, unemployment, and vacant, neglected properties—would only make the incoming mayor’s tasks more challenging.
Not long after moving in to City Hall, Pugh made national headlines in the summer of 2017 when she ordered the removal of several Confederate statues, seen by many as symbols of the role of white supremacy in fostering the city’s racial problems. In January of this year, with a police corruption scandal dragging on and the homicide rate spiraling out of control, she fired Baltimore’s police commissioner, Kevin Davis. (His replacement, Darryl De Sousa, resigned in May after being charged with failure to file federal taxes; the position remains open.) And while working with the federal government has been difficult for cities in the Trump era, Pugh was able to win a considerable chunk of Opportunity Zone resources: Her proposal was for 44 communities in the city, and 42 of them were approved.