AFRO Exclusive: Catherine Pugh Prepares to Leave Home

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By Frances “Toni” Draper
AFRO Publisher

“Who do we hold responsible for what we become in our lifetimes…dope addicts or doctors, robbers or reporters, rapists or radiologists, church leaders or child abusers?  And who created the myth that permits us to place blame for our mistakes on anyone other than ourselves?  Blame only allows for cop outs and excuses while we remain unhealed, unaccomplished and faultless in the face of our own inadequacies. Ultimately I believe we must hold ourselves responsible for our mistakes. Parents can’t teach what they don’t know. Teachers can’t give you expectations that aren’t inside of you. Dreams can’t come true if you don’t dare to dream. All the preparation, right teachings, bible studies, won’t make a difference if we don’t make right choices. And even if we make wrong choices we must be responsible enough to admit to them and turn our situations around…because we can.”

These words, written by Catherine Pugh several years ago, for a yet-to-be published book entitled Leaving Home, have new meaning as the former Baltimore mayor makes the long journey from her Ashburton home to Alabama to begin a three-year sentence in federal prison on June 26.

On June 19, an Anne Arundel County, Md. judge sentenced the former Baltimore mayor to six months in prison (to be served concurrently with the three year sentence). (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

In 2019, Pugh pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, and two counts of tax evasion. And on June 19, an Anne Arundel County, Md. judge sentenced her to six months in prison (to be served concurrently with the three year sentence) for failure to disclose money she received from her Healthy Holly children’s book on her State Financial Disclosure Form while she was a state Senator.   

In a recent interview, Pugh, 70, told the AFRO that she is ready to serve her time and then return to continue working on positive projects that she knows she still has to complete. “While in prison,” she confided, “I hope to write a blog and to be an encouragement to other women I encounter there. I know God is not finished with me.” She added, “and, I believe I have many productive years left.” 

Pugh was raised in Philadelphia, Pa. with her seven siblings and came to Maryland in 1967 to attend Morgan State University where she subsequently earned Bachelor of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees. A former college instructor and public relations/media expert, Pugh served on the Baltimore City Council (1999-2004), was appointed to a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates (2005), elected to the state Senate (2010) and became the 50th mayor of Baltimore in December 2016.  She provided the founding vision for the Baltimore Marathon, is credited with creating the Baltimore Fish Out of Water Project and is a co-founder of the Baltimore Design School.  

 “Catherine, like most of us, has made mistakes,” wrote her friend, W. Paul Coates (founder of Black Classic Press, former Black Panther and father of author Ta-Nehisi Coates) in a December 2019 AFRO op-ed. “Unlike most of us, she has also done tons and tons of good. That good must be weighed against her mistakes. Some may disagree, but I want her back doing good, working in our community. This story does not end here.”

Indeed the story continues, and it remains to be seen what will happen in the future. However, for now Catherine Elizabeth Pugh is leaving home.