Things are happening in the city of Baltimore, the normally quiet city just outside the nation’s capital. People are asking: Where is Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh? Baltimore CBS Local stated that the question can be heard all over the city as the FBI and IRS raided Pugh’s home, City Hall and other locations tied to her Thursday. CBS Local adds, “No one has seen the mayor and her own spokesperson doesn’t know where she is even though she’s supposed to be recovering from pneumonia.” Even the mayor’s spokesman, James Bentley, admitted he hadn’t spoken to Pugh and that he has no idea where she is. Even Mayor Pugh’s defense attorney, Steve Silverman, is silent on the subject.
AOL reported that Mayor Pugh has been facing calls for her resignation over a scandal involving the sale of her children’s books to entities that do business with the city. “She was already facing a criminal investigation by the state prosecutor’s office, as well as probes by the Baltimore Inspector General, an ethics board at City Hall and a state insurance commission,” the report stated.
Oh, Catherine Pugh, I knew you when!
Philadelphia’s old UHF analog television station, Channel 48 (WKBS-TV), has come and gone. Channel 48 in the year 2002-03 had just as much “alternative” zeitgeist as PBS. Unlike PBS, WKBS was more flexible when it came to radical risk taking. Back in 2003, you could flip the television dials and generally find any number of interview format talk shows. One of Channel 48’s major talk shows was hosted by a woman named Catherine Pugh.
I forget which book of mine I was promoting at the time, but one day I received an invitation to appear on Catherine Pugh’s interview show. The deal was to chat for 30 minutes and then after that Catherine would move on to her second guest for another 30 minutes. I knew Catherine Pugh from the Curtis Building “Dream Garden” days, when I co-founded the Arts Defense League (later the Coalition for Philadelphia Art) in 1998 when it looked like the famous mural “Dream Garden” would leave the city for Las Vegas. Catherine Pugh interviewed me and another Coalition member in the lobby of the Curtis Center.
Sitting next to Catherine Pugh with cameras rolling and answering questions about my life was something else. Initially, I had no idea how “deep” Catherine would probe. As it happened, her standard book questions were followed by more personal ones until I was talking about aspects of my life I had heretofore only revealed in private journals. How did she get me to reveal the most intimate details of my life on television? And why was I a willing subject? Had she hypnotized me?
How did this soft-spoken woman get me to open up so willingly? At the end of my 30-minute segment, Pugh announced that she was not finished with me yet and asked if I wanted to go for a full hour. A full hour to talk about my personal life! I agreed, but by the end of the show, I wondered if I had revealed too much.
At the time, I liked Catherine’s low-key interview style, and I certainly found her different from most other talk show hosts. Her relaxed manner made me feel extremely comfortable—there were even elements of the hypnotic in the way she conducted herself—so I kept giving her more than she asked for. One thought I had at the time was why someone this probing and methodical had never reached the top of the media heap. Why wasn’t she a Sunday morning regular on the local news shows?
At the time, I categorized Catherine Pugh as one of life’s Quiet Ones, the ones who do good work without getting a lot of praise or publicity for their efforts. As far as I know, Catherine Pugh’s name never appeared in Philadelphia Magazine; she was never noted as a Philly “mover and shaker,” never voted ‘Best of Philly.’ She always seemed to fall under the radar. Now I realize she was just biding her time.
When Channel 48 went off the air, as far as I was concerned that was the end of Catherine Pugh. The years passed. Pugh’s show, like so many other small-scale radio and TV interview shows, went down the Things That Aren’t There Anymore hole.
Pugh’s “disappearance” changed for me last year when I noticed a Facebook post reporting news about…. Catherine Pugh, the Mayor of Baltimore. Could this be the same Catherine Pugh, I thought? I studied the mayor’s picture and sure enough, the image was unmistakable. It was the same woman who had talked me into doing another 30 minutes on the air. The angular shaped face, her distinctive hairstyle with bangs, the slim “work out” body. “Oh yes,” I thought, “it really is the interviewer that Philadelphia overlooked.”
It struck me as odd that she had to go to Baltimore to become famous. Philadelphia is a hard town and it’s not usually kind to native talent, but if you say you’re from New York the city will sanctify and venerate you. Pugh went from being a Philadelphia “nobody” (or a somebody who was perceived as a nobody) to becoming the mayor of a major United States city.
Pugh began as a Maryland State senator and a member of Baltimore City Council for a number of years. Her first run for mayor was in 2011, when she lost the Democratic primary. She claimed victory in 2016, the year Donald Trump was elected as president.
In one on-air interview on the night of her mayoral victory, she was asked how she felt about a possible Donald Trump presidency. To her credit, in the calmest manner possible—no histrionics in the style of Trump Derangement Syndrome—she said that she has always worked across the aisle with Republicans and Democrats and that she would just continue to do that. Had she been a Philadelphia politician, there’s no doubt she would have laid into Trump in the crassest manner possible.
As the mayor of Baltimore, she did one unforgivable thing and that was the removal of several Baltimore Confederate statues around the city. She had the city remove the statues in the middle of the night when most of the city was asleep. This was a pure Pugh-like maneuver, quiet and sneaky and on the down-low. In the morning, city residents were shocked to discover that the statues were gone without a trace. As a former resident of Baltimore while a college student, I felt that the statue dismantling was nothing less than rape.
This was why I couldn’t help but feel, while reading about Mayor’s Pugh’s troubles, that the dislodged and cast aside historical statues had in some Rod Serling Twilight Zone way helped enact an act of psychic revenge on this quiet, sneaky lady who had disemboweled them in the middle of the night.