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Harris Jones & Malone: Spotlight on Mayor Catherine E. Pugh

Baltimore City Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (Photo: pughformayor.com)

In November of 2016, Baltimore City elected Catherine Pugh to serve as the City’s 50th Mayor. Only the 3rd woman ever elected to serve the citizens of Baltimore as Mayor, Catherine Pugh faces a unique set of challenges and obstacles in the coming years. Sworn into leadership on December 6, 2016, Mayor Pugh is tasked with lowering the City’s high crime rate, improving an underperforming school system, and fostering economic development, among other issues. While this task may seem daunting for most, Mayor Pugh remains optimistic and enthusiastic as she navigates the early months of her first term in office. In a sit-down conversation, I had the opportunity to speak with Mayor Pugh about her “dream job” and her visions for a better Baltimore.

Mayor Pugh was born and raised in Philadelphia along with her 6 siblings. From an early age, Mayor Pugh exhibited a strong work ethic and began working in 9th grade. By her 12th grade year, Mayor Pugh held two jobs and attended school in order to achieve her goal of attending a 4-year college or university. At one point, Mayor Pugh recalls working at a nursing home from 11:00pm to 7:00am, walking a mile and half to her home to bathe and change clothes, and then heading to another job as a secretary. Ultimately, Mayor Pugh’s hard work would pay off as she eventually earned enough money to enroll at Morgan State University. While at Morgan, Mayor Pugh earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and her Masters of Business Administration.

Although Mayor Pugh has been heavily involved with public service for most of her adulthood, she initially began her professional career as a banker and credit analyst. Prior to serving as an elected official on the state or local levels, Mayor Pugh worked in a variety of different professional arenas. Mayor Pugh once worked in the late Mayor William Donald Schaeffer’s administration, served as the Dean of Strayer Business College (now Strayer University), and even owned and operated her own newspaper. Despite the diversity among her career choices, Mayor Pugh has been able to find success in every endeavor she has encountered.

As a member of Mayor William Donald Schaeffer’s administration, Mayor Pugh served as a crime prevention specialist. Eventually working her way up to Director of Citizens Involvement, Mayor Pugh began to work directly in communities across Baltimore City. In her role as Director, Mayor Pugh started neighborhood watch campaigns, “citizens on patrol” and “operation identification” programs throughout Baltimore City. As the Dean of Strayer Business College, Mayor Pugh was instrumental in the school tripling its enrollment over a 5 year period. As the owner and operator of her own newspaper for nearly 7 years, Mayor Pugh wrote about issues affecting the African American community and methods to change negative attitudes associated with African Americans. Mayor Pugh’s work on the newspaper led to her being heavily recruited to join the The Baltimore Sun newspaper where she maintained her own newspaper supplement. In her section, Mayor Pugh focused on bridging the gap between Blacks and Whites to create an economic alliance and business-friendly work environment for all races. Today, Mayor Pugh continues to own and operate her own public relations company. However, since 1999, Mayor Pugh’s focus has shifted almost entirely to serving the citizens of Baltimore at the state and local levels.

After fundraising for various candidates over a number of years, Mayor Pugh finally decided herself to seek elected office. After running a successful campaign in 1999, Mayor Pugh was elected to serve the citizens of Council District 4 on the Baltimore City Council. Once again, Mayor Pugh’s strong work ethic and ability to achieve tangible results were put on display during her tenure. As a first term City councilwoman, Mayor Pugh was responsible for creating programs that continue to have a lasting impact on Baltimore City residents and the local economy. For instance, in 2001 Mayor Pugh helped create both the Fish out of Water project and the Baltimore Marathon. As of today, the Fish out of Water project has raised $1 million to wire City schools to the internet and provide music instruments for City youth. Additionally, the Baltimore City marathon has had an estimated $30 million impact on the Baltimore City economy. After running unsuccessfully for City Council President in 2003, Mayor Pugh began her career as a member of the Maryland General Assembly.

In 2005, after the death of late Delegate Tony Fulton, Mayor Pugh was chosen as his replacement to represent District 40 in the House of Delegates. One year later, Mayor Pugh was successful in her bid for District 40’s State Senate seat. Like her tenure in the City Council, Mayor Pugh was successful in the General Assembly as she eventually rose to the rank of Senate Majority Leader. Despite her familiarity on both the state and local levels, Mayor Pugh insists the differences between the two legislative bodies are stark. While pointing out the sheer difference in the number of colleagues one must serve with, Mayor Pugh also articulated how the roles between the two bodies differ. According to Mayor Pugh, the City Council is much more constituent based with Council members focusing on making sure individuals in their districts receive the services the City is required to offer them. While the General Assembly also focuses on serving constituents, state legislators are often more removed from their constituents and the issues facing the legislature are much broader. Given her experience with both bodies, few are better suited to foster relationships between Baltimore City, the General Assembly and the Governor.

After being sworn in as Mayor just a few months ago, Mayor Pugh returns to the local government in which she made her political debut. While embracing her new role, Mayor Pugh acknowledges the differences between her initial start and her return as Mayor. Speaking of how the City Council has changed since her exit nearly two decades ago, Mayor Pugh explained, “It was a very different council then when I was initially on because it was 3 members per district. It’s also a very different perspective as Mayor. The President of the City Council works directly with the Council whereas the Mayor works to develop a relationship with the City Council. My job is to empower Council members to be able to do their jobs in their neighborhoods and communities.” As a former City Council member, Mayor Pugh’s knowledge of the challenges councilmembers face should prove beneficial as she works to move the City forward.

In her first few months in her new role, Mayor Pugh has set lofty goals for Baltimore City. During her first term, Mayor Pugh plans to focus on accountability, unemployment, housing development, and creating business opportunities. Explaining her desire to grow the City, Mayor Pugh stated, “When people measure the success of cities they look at the success of their school system, the population of the city, transparency, and the crime rate. If you want to grow a city, the question you ask is ‘what do I have to do to attract more people to the city?’ You have to have good schools, you have to have clean streets, you have to have a police department that respects the community and a community that respects the police. They have to be accountable and there has to be transparency.” Given Mayor Pugh’s track record of success as an entrepreneur and formidable politician in state and local governments, we expect her to have a productive tenure as Mayor. In her own words Mayor Pugh mentioned, “I didn’t know that this opportunity would come back around. I actually get to live what I consider a dream. My desire is to grow Baltimore, to make people feel excited about living in this City and to understand the glass is half full as opposed to half empty”. With Mayor Catherine Pugh in charge, Baltimore has a reason to be optimistic about its future.

By:  Kenneth N. Harris, Jr.

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