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Justice

Where Will Baltimore’s Story Go Next?

Mayor Catherine Pugh, who resigned amid a corruption probe, was obsessed with the city’s image. But Baltimore’s battered brand isn’t its most urgent problem.
A Baltimore police officer stands in front of the home of the city's now-former mayor, Catherine Pugh, who has remained in seclusion as a corruption probe unfolded.
A Baltimore police officer stands in front of the home of the city's now-former mayor, Catherine Pugh, who has remained in seclusion as a corruption probe unfolded.Jose Luis Magana/AP

Nothing conjured in The Wire’s writers’ room could be a bigger indictment of Baltimore’s structural and institutional woes than the bizarre final news conference of Mayor Catherine Pugh on March 28, which ended with a visibly unwell Pugh, who was suffering from pneumonia, showing off a line of baby clothing inspired by the self-published children’s books that would be her political undoing. The books, which had titles like Healthy Holly: Exercise Is Fun!, lie at the center of a still-unfolding corruption probe: As a Baltimore Sun-led investigation revealed, Pugh had sold huge numbers of “Healthy Holly” books to the University of Maryland Medical System, on whose board she sat. Several other local entities—including the health insurer Kaiser Permanente, which was seeking a $48 million city contract at the time—also wrote big checks for bulk “Healthy Holly” purchases; in all, Pugh is believed to have collected about $800,000 for the books.

The mayor took a leave of absence after that disastrous conference, but her legal troubles only deepened; last week, FBI and IRS agents raided Pugh’s home and City Hall offices, and whatever local support remained seemed to evaporate. She resigned on Thursday.