Pugh ea­ger to get off to a fast start and turn things around

Even be­fore the elec­tion, work, ex­pec­ta­tions pile up

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter

Ev­ery­where state Sen. Cather­ine E. Pugh goes these days, peo­ple ex­pect big things.

Kids in the schools she vis­its call her “the mayor.” City Coun­cil mem­bers, des­per­ate for change, ap­proach her with ideas to re­form the city. The se­nior cit­i­zens she meets at bingo say they’re count­ing on her to ad­dress the blight and in­come in­equal­ity they see all around them.

Bal­ti­more’s poverty, crime and va­cant houses are prob­lems that have con­founded many a mayor. But don’t tell city State Sen. Cather­ine E. Pugh “has a vi­sion to bring [Bal­ti­more] neigh­bor­hoods back,” said for­mer Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Jim Smith. res­i­dents that Pugh, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for mayor, must first win of­fice to ad­dress them.

As she walks down a street in East Bal­ti­more on a sunny af­ter­noon, a man honks a car horn and leans out the win­dow. “Pugh!” he shouts. “We know you’re go­ing to turn this city around!” Pugh waves back. “No pres­sure, right?” she ob­serves. Pugh, 66, has plans to re­form Balti-

more. Some are tweaks to cur­rent pol­icy. Oth­ers are more rad­i­cal changes.

She wants to as­sume may­oral con­trol of the city’s strug­gling pub­lic schools to make clear who is re­spon­si­ble. She wants to break up the city’s hous­ing oper­a­tions into two agen­cies, one of which would fo­cus on tear­ing down va­cants.

She will seek to put civil­ians on trial boards that rec­om­mend how to dis­ci­pline po­lice of­fi­cers ac­cused of mis­con­duct. And she plans to en­sure Bal­ti­more’s ma­jor­ity black pop­u­la­tion is get­ting its fair share of city con­tracts.

But first, Pugh has to do some­thing many as­sume she’s al­ready done: win the mayor’s race.

In deeply Demo­cratic Bal­ti­more, Pugh has been run­ning against Repub­li­can Alan Walden and Green Party can­di­date Joshua Har­ris in the gen­eral elec­tion. Then last week an old ri­val, for­mer Mayor Sheila Dixon, en­tered the race as a write-in can­di­date. Pugh nar­rowly de­feated Dixon in April’s Demo­cratic pri­mary.

Pugh has de­clined to ad­dress Dixon’s de­ci­sion to re­sume her cam­paign. Since win­ning in April, Pugh has run a low-key but busy cam­paign. Her sched­ule is of­ten packed with events, in­clud­ing vis­it­ing schools in some of Bal­ti­more’s poor­est neigh­bor­hoods and giv­ing the key­note ad­dress at con­ven­tions for busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives.

“I don’t care who is run­ning,” Pugh said. “We are cam­paign­ing ev­ery sin­gle day. We are on the phone ev­ery day. Ev­ery day, we are out can­vass­ing.”

Dixon’s en­try could cause the state sen­a­tor to run a more vis­i­ble cam­paign, said Nina Therese Kas­ni­u­nas, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Goucher Col­lege.

Kas­ni­u­nas notes that af­ter win­ning the pri­mary, Pugh has been re­luc­tant to weigh in on con­tro­ver­sial is­sues, such as a $660 mil­lion pub­lic fi­nanc­ing deal for the Port Cov­ing­ton de­vel­op­ment. She is fond of say­ing “One mayor at a time” — an in­di­ca­tion that she won’t sec­ond-guess cur­rent Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake.

While she hasn’t held large cam­paign ral­lies or aired com­mer­cials since the

Cather­ine E. Pugh

Age: 66 Job: State sen­a­tor; co-owner of 2 Chic Bou­tique Ex­pe­ri­ence: Mary­land Se­nate, 2007-present; House of Del­e­gates, 2005-2007; Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil, 1999-2004 Ed­u­ca­tion: B.S., MBA, Mor­gan State Univer­sity Home: Ash­bur­ton Fam­ily: Sin­gle, no chil­dren pri­mary, Pugh has been build­ing her ad­min­is­tra­tion and craft­ing pol­icy plans.

She has as­sem­bled a tran­si­tion team that in­cludes for­mer Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Jim Smith, Del. Pe­ter Ham­men and for­mer city schools in­terim CEO Tisha Ed­wards.

She’s vis­ited for­mer New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to dis­cuss im­prov­ing Bal­ti­more by build­ing bet­ter hous­ing and re­duc­ing homi­cides, among other ideas.

“She is a hard-work­ing, com­pe­tent, bright per­son,” Smith said of Pugh. “She knows the neigh­bor­hoods of Bal­ti­more in­ti­mately. She has a vi­sion to bring those neigh­bor­hoods back.”

Pugh’s ex­pe­ri­ence is as vast as it is var­ied. She helped launch both the Bal­ti­more De­sign School and the Bal­ti­more Run­ning Fes­ti­val. She has been a banker, a jour­nal­ist, a pub­lisher, head of a pub­lic re­la­tions firm, a dean and a small-busi­ness owner.

She wants to re­store for­mer Mayor Martin O’Malley’s tra­di­tion of hold­ing open of­fice hours for City Coun­cil mem­bers. Pugh said some of her best ideas were launched from those con­ver­sa­tions — in­clud­ing start­ing the marathon.

“I said, ‘The city needs its own marathon,’ ” re­called Pugh, an avid run­ner. “He said ‘OK’ — but didn’t of­fer to pay for it.

“Not a nickel, not a dime. It be­came up to you to fig­ure out how to do it,” she said. “I sat down with the law depart­ment and said, ‘We’re go­ing to write a con­tract. We’re go­ing to put it out to bid.’ ”

Last week­end, the Bal­ti­more Run­ning Fes­ti­val was held for the 16th time.

The idea to start a de­sign school came af­ter Pugh vis­ited a fash­ion high school in New York. “I wanted to have a spe­cial school for peo­ple with this kind of cre­ativ­ity,” she said.

On a re­cent visit to the de­sign school, a pub­lic mid­dle and high school in East Bal­ti­more, chil­dren flocked to Pugh. They posed for self­ies with her. She vis­ited ev­ery class­room in the re­fur­bished ware­house, as­sur­ing stu­dents they have bright fu­tures.

Pugh, who lives in West Bal­ti­more’s Ash­bur­ton neigh­bor­hood, says she wants to pro­mote eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity for AfricanAmer­i­cans, a point she stressed while speak­ing to busi­ness lead­ers at Martin’s West in Bal­ti­more County.

As the key­note speaker at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Med­i­cal Sys­tem’s sup­plier di­ver­sity fair, Pugh re­called white busi­nesses flour­ish­ing and black busi­nesses strug­gling when she ar­rived in Bal­ti­more in the late 1960s.

“Un­be­knownst to me was the nega­tive per­cep­tion that not only peo­ple in the [white] com­mu­nity had, but peo­ple in their own com­mu­ni­ties had,” Pugh said. “I be­came very con­cerned about how do we shape and change the im­age, so that peo­ple un­der­stand that in­side our com­mu­ni­ties we have the ca­pac­ity to be good board mem­bers and busi­ness part­ners.”

Af­ter be­com­ing CEO of a pub­lic re­la­tions firm, Pugh au­thored a se­ries of sup­ple­ments for The Bal­ti­more Sun that cel­e­brated the achieve­ments of black Amer­i­cans in the fields of busi­ness, health, arts and en­ter­tain­ment. Even­tu­ally, she re­al­ized, she needed to get in­volved in pol­i­tics to have a big­ger im­pact.

Af­ter win­ning seats on the City Coun­cil and then in the state Se­nate, Pugh joined the boards of in­flu­en­tial or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of Mary­land Med­i­cal Sys­tem. There, she pressed the hospi­tal to open up its pen­sion sys­tem in­vest­ments to more black-owned firms. In­vest­ments in mi­nor­ity-owned busi­nesses have since risen from $300 mil­lion to $5 bil­lion, she said.

Pugh sup­porter Billy Mur­phy, a wel­l­known lawyer and for­mer judge, said it is un­for­tu­nate that many African-Amer­i­cans be­lieve Dixon has a stronger record of sup­port­ing black com­mu­ni­ties. Dixon won 170 of 200 pre­dom­i­nantly black precincts dur­ing the pri­mary elec­tion.

“In ev­ery ma­jor eco­nomic project that has come down the line, she’s been one of the lead­ing voices for mi­nor­ity in­clu­sion,” Mur­phy said of Pugh. He said Pugh’s as­pi­ra­tions for the city “dwarfed the goals of Sheila Dixon.”

In­deed, Pugh said she plans to change how City Hall ap­proaches se­ri­ous is­sues fac­ing Bal­ti­more, in­clud­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and polic­ing.

Although she has pub­licly backed Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis, she takes is­sue with how the Po­lice Depart­ment has ap­proached some sit­u­a­tions — most no­tably the de­ci­sion to send of­fi­cers in riot gear to the pub­lic mourn­ing of rap­per Lor Scoota’s death in West Bal­ti­more.

She be­lieves too many white peo­ple ac­cept big­oted stereo­types of AfricanAmer­i­cans.

“Would they have re­sponded that way in Fells Point or Fed­eral Hill?” Pugh asks.

Since April, Pugh has made it a point to shore up sup­port among Democrats, some of whom backed Dixon in the pri­mary. On a re­cent Thurs­day, she spent the morn­ing with West Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil nom­i­nee Leon Pin­kett, ate lunch with coun­cil Vice Pres­i­dent Ed Reisinger and par­tic­i­pated in an evening fundraiser for North­east Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil nom­i­nee Ryan Dorsey. Much of the cur­rent City Coun­cil has en­dorsed her can­di­dacy.

Reisinger said he sees in Pugh echoes of for­mer Mayor William Don­ald Schae­fer, her one­time boss. He be­lieves city gov­ern­ment will op­er­ate more ef­fi­ciently un­der Pugh, and Bal­ti­more­ans should ex­pect pos­i­tive change.

“She’s from the Schae­fer days of ‘Let’s do it,’ ” said Reisinger, who backed Dixon in the pri­mary.

Pugh rec­og­nizes the high ex­pec­ta­tions. She hopes cit­i­zens have pa­tience as she tries to tackle is­sues that have per­sisted for decades. She said she’s up for the chal­lenge. “I work well un­der pres­sure,” she says.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

KARL MERTON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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