LIVE NOW. The Baltimore Sun broke the news of the embattled mayor’s intention to resign just minutes ago. Catherine Pugh is under investigation for a scandal involving sales of her self-published children’s book series.
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Almost three decades ago, while working at the Pentagon, I had the honor of meeting and speaking with the Rev. Billy Graham. As a conservative Christian, it was one of the true highlights of my spiritual life.
Today, I am still a conservative Christian, but one who takes issue with the Rev. Franklin Graham — though I recognize the tremendous good he has done for countless people in need the world over, after emerging from the shadow of his famous father.
That said, good people can certainly disagree from time to time, in a civil and respectful manner — a form of debate that, sadly, appears to be on its way to extinction in the age of President Trump, when many people on both sides of the political aisle exist on the razor’s edge of rage and see those who disagree with them as the enemy.
Here’s the truth: Republicans and Democrats are not enemies. Conservatives and liberals are not enemies. The haves and have-nots are not enemies. Heterosexuals are not the enemies of the LGBTQ community. We are all Americans, human beings dealing with an unpredictable, often cruel world.
While it is now a mostly ignored cliché, we are in fact much stronger as a people when we band together as one to fight real common enemies. We are much better as a people when we unite to help those most battered by life through no fault of their own.
Baltimore is once again beset by allegations of corruption. The city’s mayor, Catherine Pugh, is accused of bestowing contracts and political favors on companies and organizations that purchased large orders of her book. The scandal, plus rising crime and a lack of economic opportunity, keep Baltimore residents cynical about government. William Brangham talks to Paul Jay of the Real News Network.
Read the Full Transcript
Federal raids on public buildings, and once again the city’s top leader besieged by allegations of corruption, all of this leading to more anger, cynicism and frustration in Baltimore, Maryland, once given the nickname Charm City.
William Brangham looks at the scandal that has become central in Baltimore, even as residents grapple with much bigger problems, like crime and a lack of economic opportunity.
It was a striking scene, federal agents raiding Mayor Catherine Pugh’s home yesterday, carrying out boxes of financial records and documents tied to a growing political scandal.
The FBI and IRS searched at least six Baltimore addresses linked to the mayor, including City Hall. It’s the first federal involvement in this growing investigation of Pugh.
The allegation against the mayor is that she took payments for her children’s book series called “Healthy Holly” when, in fact, the payments were really kickbacks. Since 2011, the University of Maryland medical system paid Pugh half-a-million dollars for 100,000 copies of the self-published books. She was a board member there for 18 years.
The CEO of that medical system resigned this afternoon. Pugh sold another $300,000 worth of books to other customers, including two health carriers that did business with the city. Last month, she apologized, her voice weakened by an apparent bout of pneumonia.
I am deeply sorry for any lack of confidence or disappointment which this initiative may have caused on Baltimore city residents, friends and colleagues.
Pugh has since taken a leave of absence and resigned her board seat at the university medical system. An acting mayor has stepped in. But calls for her to leave office permanently are growing.
In a letter earlier this month, Baltimore’s entire City Council wrote, “We urge you to tender your resignation, effective immediately.”
And this week, Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan said the same. Pugh is just the latest Baltimore mayor besieged by scandal. Her predecessor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, faced heavy criticism for how she handled the 2015 riots after a young black man named Freddie Gray died in police custody. She didn’t run for reelection.
Before her, Sheila Dixon resigned after being convicted of embezzlement. The city has also gone through four police commissioners in the last 18 months, while the city’s crime is surging. Homicides are up and arrests are down.
So let’s get some perspective from a longtime Baltimore journalist and resident. Paul Jay is the editor-in-chief…
Nobody has been more willing than us to tally up, fairly frequently, the list of struggles San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has had getting things done.
Just this week, he lost another one as the years-long effort he championed to remake Balboa Park’s Central Mesa died.
But also this week, he finally achieved something that had alluded him: He got a majority on the City Council to support the effort to raise hotel-room taxes.
Yes, he succeeded in the impossibly quixotic quest to get Democrats to advance a tax increase.
We kid the mayor. It was an achievement. With the support of his Republican allies, Council President Georgette Gomez and District 2 City Councilwoman Jen Campbell, Faulconer moved the vote up to March 2020 – not even a year from now. In the process, he has managed to turn somewhat ambivalent support from labor leaders for the measure into passionate support from labor leaders.
And thus, the campaign to raise the tax to expand the Convention Center, fund homeless services and repair roads had its best week so far.
Some of the people who opposed the move to March said they did not buy the idea that March would be better for the measure. But there are three major reasons it will be helped:
The November ballot is shaping up to be filled with other tax measures. They all may have had a deleterious effect on one another. March is maybe a lot better. Not just because it will be less crowded but if labor is really on board, it could really rally support as Democrats flock to the polls to pick a presidential candidate in March.
There really is a chance the ballot measure could only require a simple majority vote to pass. And there really is a chance that loophole that keeps it from needing a two-thirds vote could close soon.
And yeesh, why would you not want this conversation to be over as soon as possible? Who is not sick of the Convention Center expansion talk among you? Stand up and show yourselves. We can see a definitive decision on the horizon.
Who are we kidding? It will never end.
Basking in a Victory
On the podcast, we imagined the mayor’s staff weeping a bit out of joy that something, anything, even just a vote on when to make people vote, had gone their way. Maybe the mayor just walked a few blocks to stare silently at the Convention Center, a passerby slow-clapping for him.
We asked if that’s what happened. Matt Awbrey, the mayor’s chief of external affairs, said the staff did feel vindicated and that they’re really happy with Gomez and Campbell.
“The best part is we’re on an upswing. We have a strong coalition that continues to grow and get even stronger,” he said in a written message.
That seems actually true?
The case for the Convention Center expansion: At the City Council hearing, a lot of people spoke in favor of moving the vote to March but it sure seemed like only one person made a straightforward case for the Convention Center expansion itself. It wasn’t the Chamber of Commerce representative, who focused on addressing homelessness.
It was the hotel workers union, Unite HERE, Local 30, and president Brigette Browning.
“We’re doing the work that nobody one wants to do in this city. We’re maintaining the tourism industry. And the hardest thing for us is when the rooms are vacant and we don’t have hours. I’m totally in agreement – we need to take as much money out of the hoteliers pockets as we can. There’s nobody in this room doing that more than I am.”
It’s kind of Browning’s way to hit hoteliers hard until they deal with her and then she’s a powerful advocate for them and the sector.
Related: We were startled this legislation hasn’t gotten much attention. The hotel workers union and hotels are supporting a bill by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath to severely restrict vacation rentals along the coast.
Democratic leaders in San Diego County do not like what their former party chair is doing.
Reflection: This week we reported that philanthropists led by Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs dropped their plan to remake Balboa Park’s parking and plazas. They did that after meeting with Councilman Chris Ward and pitching a segmented version of the plan to save immediate costs. He was not into it. According to Lisa Halverstadt he brought up several concerns about the process going forward if not the vision
As one observer noted to us about Ward: It is quite a week when you help end Irwin Jacobs’ almost decade-long effort to remake the infrastructure of the park and pick a fight with labor.
Mayor’s Race Update
There is still no major Republican running in the race for San Diego mayor. We know the reasons why but it’s still fascinating.
San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Bry held a fundraiser recently with…
Jack Colwell was a young reporter with a big story. Trade union sources told him that the Studebaker car plant, the beating heart of South Bend, Indiana, was closing down with a loss of nearly 7,000 jobs that would devastate the community. On 9 December 1963, above his byline, the front page headline on the South Bend Tribune newspaper read: “Auto output to end here.”
“We had an afternoon edition at that time and it was taken out to the factory gate,” said Colwell, who is still a political columnist at the paper. “Workers were coming out and they wouldn’t believe it. They thought it was fake news. ‘No, no, we haven’t heard it. Nobody’s told us. This is not true. Studebaker’s still going to be here forever.’ They just wouldn’t believe it and of course then the announcement came soon thereafter and they believed it.”
When Pete Buttigieg announced his run for US president last Sunday, he chose to do it in a cavernous former Studebaker factory in South Bend. The ghosts of assembly line workers were replaced by his cheering supporters. The symbolism was clear for a candidate who is said to have “the trauma of midwestern deindustrialisation in his bones” and who is trying to make the case that – after seven years as mayor – his revival of the city shows he is ready to be president.
Many in South Bend proudly agree. But there also those who complain that, like many other urban regeneration efforts across the midwest, the benefits have been distributed unevenly in Indiana’s fourth biggest city, where more than 40% of the population is African American or Hispanic.
Studebaker shuttered two weeks after the Kennedy assassination due to falling sales, outdated production facilities and fierce competition from Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.
There were fears that the city might not survive. Walter Winchell, a radio broadcaster, warned: “Grass will grow in the streets of South Bend.”
“And it darned near happened,” Colwell mused. “The whole economy suffered because a lot of the Studebaker workers not only lost their jobs, they lost their pensions and there was a lot of poverty, suicides even. It was a very depressed place and that went on for decades.”
South Bend’s population sank from 130,000 in the 1960s to 100,000 today, a decline of 23%, as many young people, including Buttigieg himself, sought greener pastures. Newsweek magazine named it one of America’s dying cities. But after spells at Harvard, Oxford and McKinsey, Buttigieg came home. In 2012, aged just 29, he became mayor on a promise of revitalizing downtown and tackling urban decay.
By many measures, his watch – from which he took a seven-month leave to deploy to Afghanistan with the navy reserve in 2014 – has been a success. South Bend has seen its first significant population increase in half a century. Joblessness has been cut by more than half, from 9.6% when Buttigieg took office to 3.8% today. Some $850m of investments have poured in. While South Bend is about 55% Democratic, he won reelection with more than 80% of the vote.
Colwell, who has seen mayors come and go over half a century, said: “I don’t think you could say that he just single handedly turned the city around. There were other mayors before him who brought the city back some and, perhaps no matter who was mayor, maybe the time had come when there was going to be a rejuvenation. But certainly he was a prime catalyst in bringing it about.”
Under Buttigieg, old Studebaker buildings are being revived and converted into mixed use spaces, including for tech start-ups. One-way streets have been scrapped and altered to become more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. Buttigieg introduced a public art installation called River Lights on the main waterway. He has tried to make government more systematic by gathering data on everything from rubbish collection to gunshots.
And his daring 1,000 houses in 1,000 days initiative demolished or repaired abandoned homes. “When he announced that, I thought he was crazy,” Colwell said….
Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch has removed four people from the city’s civil rights commission in response to a months-long dispute over its membership, according to a news release from the city.
The commission, a seven-member group of residents, has for the last several months refused to seat three others who were appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council in December. Commissioners have said the city made mistakes during that process and the three people Klipsch replaced should remain in their roles.
Commissioners affected by the mayor’s action are Benjamin Hahn, Shylee Garrett, Judy Shawver and Nicole Bribriesco-Ledger. The mayor says he will appoint four commissioners “as soon…
A small group of political opponents of the Hamilton Township mayor, including her challenger in the Republican primary, are flooding the township with hundreds of requests for records that cost $200,000 to process in 2018 alone.
Hamilton Township Mayor Kelly Yaede has been facing scrutiny from fellow Republicans over the past several months, particularly from David Henderson, who is challenging her in the Republican primary in June. She fired back recently in an open letter released through her office calling out Henderson for filing 31 requests for records in 2019, as of March 26. This amounts to just over one request every 2 work days, according to the mayor.
She has called Henderson’s requests “a source of taxpayer funding for Mr. Henderson’s personal campaign” and said he’s “engaged in a highly-visible, public attack” against her and her administration.
Henderson says he and others have had to file the Open Public Record Act requests because the mayor will not allow any public record to be released without it. And, because his requests have often been denied for being “overly complex,” he has had to break them into smaller categories in order to obtain the records.
“It started three or four years ago that nothing left the building unless she knew what it was and who it was going to,” Henderson said, who categorizes himself as a vocal opponent of Yaede’s administration, often calling out conditions of township roads and economic development efforts.
Many documents are available on the township’s website, Yaede said. Those include public tax records, budget information, department annual reports, township ordinances…
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For the first time in nearly a decade, the police department has taken a central role in the Dallas mayoral race.
In forums, ads and other venues, nearly all of the nine candidates running for mayor have highlighted plans to fix the shrinking department, bolster a shaky pension fund and speed up rising response times.
Most have said higher police pay — even more than the raises officers just received months ago — is needed, although it’s unclear where the city would get the money or even if they could. Some also say City Hall needs new incentives to entice and retain officers — or even a new police academy building. And a few want to explore ways to boost the first responders’ pension system, even if it means new debt.
Dallas political strategist Clayton P. Henry — who is working on local elections but not the mayor’s race — said that crime is regularly a top concern in local municipal elections.
But whichever candidate wins will have to confront a different and more dire situation than Mayor Mike Rawlings faced on his first day in office. When Henry consulted on former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle’s campaign against Rawlings, a businessman, in 2011, the recession had turned the focus away from public safety and toward economic development.
“Back then, our crime rate had dropped. We had some good years. People felt pretty good about that,” Henry said.
Kunkle declined to comment directly on the police department’s current state and the mayoral race. But he said today’s issues seem far more pressing than during his mayoral run, during which he “can’t recall” police issues playing a major part in his campaign.
Race for the public safety mantle
This year’s contenders have tried to cast themselves as the public safety candidate in the nonpartisan race. Some tried to get creative, offering solutions — at times vague ones — to dig up millions in the budget for cops.
But those efforts could be at least partially stymied if the Legislature passes restrictions on local property tax revenue. The police department is still the single-largest general revenue budget item in Dallas, eating up about $486 million of the $1.3 billion discretionary budget this fiscal year.
State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, whose father was a police officer, said if elected mayor, he wants to bolster police staffing, secure the police officer pension and improve morale.
“We need to constantly be monitoring the market and be willing to move our salary upwards when we have to,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he plans to pay for improvements for police by growing southern Dallas — which was also a priority for Rawlings — through business developments to add to the city’s tax base.
“Stuff that doesn’t exist today, it needs to exist tomorrow so there’s new stuff to tax,” Johnson said. “We need to expand the tax base that way.”
Lynn McBee, a nonprofit CEO, said the city can’t grow its way into funding public safety. Instead, she said, if public safety becomes a priority, then growth will follow.
McBee wants to use hotel-occupancy tax revenue that is spent on VisitDallas to pay for arts expenditures. Doing so could free up general fund revenue for public safety, she said. And McBee said she hopes to consider privatizing DFW International Airport to help create a public safety fund.
“We are going to have to do things that are not business as usual,” McBee said.
Former Republican state Rep. Jason Villalba, who enjoyed police support in the Legislature, called public safety his “No. 1 priority.” He proposed a plan that includes an increase in starting police pay to $65,000, improved healthcare benefits and retention bonuses. He is also open to pension-obligation bonds — a somewhat risky bet on receiving investment returns that beat the interest rate on the debt — to help bolster the pension fund. (Rawlings opposed the use of those bonds, which were used to…
FALL RIVER — The day before Mayor Jasiel Correia II admitted on a radio talk show that the removal of his political challenger from the B.M.C. Durfee Building Committee was politically motivated, two City Councilors submitted a request for emergency legislation that would require council approval before any such mayoral actions.
Sponsored by City Council Vice President Pam Laliberte-Lebeau and Councilor Shawn Cadime, the resolution states that “political retaliation continues by the current Mayor at an alarming rate” and identified the most recent “revenge politics” against recall election candidate and School Committee member Paul Coogan, who ran against Correia, and School Committee Vice Chairman Mark Costa, who publicly supported Coogan – both of whom Correia removed less than 24 hours after he was recalled then re-elected as mayor.
The mayor could not be immediately reached for comment.
If approved, the resolution would be sent to the Committee on Ordinances and Legislation to adopt an emergency preamble for an ordinance that would allow council approval before any board or committee member holding a seat that has policy making or fiduciary responsibilities was removed by a mayor.
Assistant City Clerk Ines Leite said the council would have to approve the emergency preamble and define the emergency. If an ordinance is approved in committee, its passage will require only one reading in City Council.
The resolution is on Tuesday’s agenda for the City Council, which convenes after Correia’s scheduled State of the City address at 5:30 p.m.
Cadime is still pushing for a special meeting of the City Council to take a second try to force Correia out of office temporarily using a provision in the city charter.
“My concern is really how he governs,” said Cadime. “He’s making decisions based on his political survival, not the good of the city.”
In November, less than a month after Correia was arrested by federal officers in the early morning in Bridgewater and later arraigned on 13 federal counts of wire and tax fraud, the effort to remove Correia failed in a 4-5 vote.
Cadime cites that in additional to blatant political retribution, Correia’s ending the pay-as-you-throw program was for his own political gain before the recall and without considering the loss of revenue.
He’s also concerned with Correia’s latest claims that he’ll alleviate the storm water fee which helps fund the city’s ongoing CSO project.
CHICAGO — The campaign for Chicago mayor is in a sprint to the finish line with just over four weeks until voters head to the polls to pick a new leader.
The April 2 run-off election will be historic: For the first time, Chicago will have a black woman as mayor.
Candidates Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot are trying to broaden their bases, campaigning in neighborhoods where voters didn’t choose them Tuesday.
Preckwinkle this week released a negative attack ad on TV, while Lightfoot is running a positive message.
But as commercials flood the airwaves, political expert Jon Paul Valadez said the race might just be decided on the ground.
“Where they’re going to be able to pick up the most ground is by being on the ground, having a strong field operation in those targeted wards, putting faces there, having real-life conversations with real people,” Valadez said.
He believes Lightfoot showed crossover appeal on election night — running up big numbers in mostly white Near North Side and lakefront neighborhoods. Preckwinkle held her base near the South Side shoreline.
The rest of the city, however, voted along racial fault lines: White voters on the Northwest and Southwest Sides went for Bill Daley and Jerry Joyce.
Hispanic voters opted for Gery Chico and Susana Mendoza. Large swaths of traditionally black communities chose Willie Wilson.