Catherine Pugh is planning for Baltimore’s future. Even as Sheila Dixon, Pugh’s primary opponent in the Mayoral race publicly weighs her options for contesting the results of the April 26th Democratic election, Pugh is reaching out and moving forward. “My campaign was about unity and bringing people together” Pugh said in an interview with the AFRO.
Since being named the winner of the election on April 26, Pugh has been busy meeting with Baltimore’s business and educational leadership. She is working on strategies to transform Baltimore into the place where people will choose to send their children to school. “We have to make sure Baltimore City Public Schools can provide an experience where our children are well educated. When parents begin to have children that are school-aged, they are not choosing Baltimore. We have to figure out how to change that,” she said.
Pugh spent her first post-election weeks meeting with Baltimore’s business and higher education leaders to discuss ways to make career opportunities available to the city’s college graduates and influence students to make Baltimore a permanent home after college. “I came here as a Morgan State University student. Baltimore is the place where I grew up and became an adult, a business owner, a banker, a CEO, a public servant and state legislator.” “I’ve spoken to Michael Cryor and we are working with The One Baltimore Committee on job opportunities. I would like to see students have options in Baltimore during their junior year so more of them can consider staying in the city,” Pugh said.
Pugh recognizes Baltimore’s college graduates aren’t the only ones who need viable employment opportunities. She acknowledges great inequities in accessing opportunity threatening the basic stability of many neighborhoods in Baltimore. “I’ve also been talking about our vision to reduce overall unemployment in our city. We have 77,000 who are unemployed in Baltimore,” Pugh said. In addition to an unemployment rate in excess of 12%, Pugh also mentioned the systemic challenges and inequities created by the combination of high unemployment with Baltimore’s high incarceration and substance abuse rates.
One-third of Maryland’s State Prison population hails from Baltimore, according to a February 2015 report by the Justice Policy Initiative (JPI). 25 of Baltimore’s 55 communities are considered “high incarceration communities.” These 25 communities are home to most of Baltimore’s 7,795 state prison inmates. Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park, the community Freddie Gray called home, has the highest rate of State Prison inmates from Baltimore.
“High incarceration communities” are also plagued by higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse, more reliance on public assistance and public transportation, and the lowest income per-capita rates in Baltimore, according to the JPI report.
Pugh recognizes that she will need a broad coalition of support to create the kind of long-term systemic changes needed to reach deep into Baltimore’s struggling neighborhoods. “I consider myself as one who does have the right approach to unite this city around issues of importance.” Pugh acknowledges and welcomes ideas that have come from some of her opponents. “I plan to have a very big tent, welcoming and open to new ideas and new vision. Great ideas came from some of our younger candidates, during this election. People who are positive and understand that the glass is half-full rather than half-empty” she said.
Scholars who closely examined the city’s primary election believe Pugh can deliver the change Baltimore voters want. Ann Cotton, Director of the Schaefer Center for Public Policy at the University of Baltimore, believes Pugh is a strategic choice for Baltimore in the aftermath of the city’s broad-based unrest.
“In choosing Catherine Pugh as the democratic nominee for Mayor of Baltimore, voters are saying they want change, but they also want a seasoned leader at the helm. With her experience in Annapolis and understanding of the challenges facing Baltimore, Ms. Pugh is well-positioned to leverage Baltimore’s position in the national spotlight to launch bold initiatives to bring about major change in Baltimore,” said Cotton.
Pugh said she understands that her administration must open city government processes and become more transparent. “The message for Baltimore is that we are going to be more inclusive. When we talk about boards and commission, we want the participation of more Baltimoreans.