BookGate expands: Baltimore Mayor takes "leave of absence" after more scandals revealed

Sometimes a story begins picking up speed like a snowball turning into an avalanche. That may be what’s happening with Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and her “Healthy Holly” book sales scandal. Only this morning we learned that the state legislature was scrambling to make much of what she was doing illegal (since apparently nobody had thought to do that before) and it was barely lunchtime when another questionable book sales deal was revealed. As the Baltimore Sun reports, health insurance provider Kaiser Permanente shoveled more than $100,000 the mayor’s way during the same period when they were competing to renew a major contract they had providing health coverage to the city government.

The fallout from this? The recently ill Mayor has taken a leave of absence from her job. (Associated Press)

Baltimore’s mayor is taking an indefinite leave of absence as a political scandal about “self-dealing” book sales intensifies.

In a Monday statement, Pugh’s office says she has been “advised by her physicians that she needs to take time to recover and focus on her health.” It says she feels as though she is unable to fulfill her obligations as mayor due to deteriorating health.

Her announcement comes shortly after Maryland’s governor called on the state prosecutor to investigate allegations against Pugh and Maryland’s comptroller called on her to resign.

The City Council president will take over Pugh’s day-to-day responsibilities.

Here are the details on the Kaiser deal that also line Pugh’s pockets very nicely.

Health provider Kaiser Permanente paid Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh more than $100,000 to buy about 20,000 copies of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books during a period when the company was seeking a lucrative contract to provide health benefits to city employees.

Kaiser confirmed Monday to The Baltimore Sun that it paid approximately $114,000 for the books in multiple orders from 2015 to 2018.

Pugh became mayor in December 2016. In September 2017, the city’s spending board, which Pugh sits on and controls, awarded the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc. a $48 million contract to provide health insurance to city employees from 2018 through 2020, with options to renew.

So far, all that Kaiser is confirming is the fact that they purchased the books for distribution in a three-state region and the amount they paid for them. But what sort of documentation do they have and will they provide it for public inspection? Was this a formal sales agreement that exists on their books or was it a “handshake deal” like the one we learned the Mayor had with UMMS? And do they have records of physically receiving the books and where and when they were distributed?

Let’s just assume for the moment that Kaiser can provide all of that documentation. That would at least make this smell considerably better than the UMMS deal where we don’t even know if tens of thousands of the books were ever even printed. And if the Mayor can show that she not only received the payment through her LLC but also paid taxes on the income and provided that information on her disclosure forms, this transaction won’t look quite as bad. (That’s a lot of “ifs” to work through, however.)

But even if that’s all true… c’mon, man. Kaiser was in the middle of negotiations to land a very profitable account with the City of Baltimore. Catherine Pugh isn’t only the Mayor, but she also runs the spending board that makes decisions about such contracts. Out of the literally tens of thousands of children’s books published every single year around the country, that Healthy Holly book was the only one they needed to grab 20,000 copies of? Surely somebody at Kaiser realized that they were shoveling more than $100K straight into the pocket of the person who would decide the fate of their contract.

How has the Mayor not resigned in disgrace yet? She’s taking a “leave of absence” but still seemingly pretending that this is all some big misunderstanding. It’s amazing that anyone could stand before the cameras multiple times and keep claiming that they didn’t technically do anything wrong and walk away with that “who, me?” look on their faces.