How The "Healthy Holly" Scandal Has Revealed the Unequal Levels of Scrutiny on Black Female Politicians

By: Akea Brionne Brown

Baltimore has made national headlines for a variety of reasons, and we’ve added another one to the list. Our (now former) Mayor, Catherine Pugh, recently announced her resignation.

If you haven’t heard about the story, the past couple months have brought a wealth of uncertainty about the future of Baltimore’s mayor. It first began with controversy surrounding the mayor’s self-published children’s book series, “Healthy Holly.” The goal of the books was to promote healthy living, exercise, and nutrition through the lens of a young, African American girl. In March, The Baltimore Sun published a story exposing a deal made by Pugh, with the University of Maryland Medical System, that resulted in her receiving half a million dollars. It was reported that the funding was a grant, intended to help for distribution and production of Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” book series. As of now, only about 9,000 of those books have been located in a Baltimore warehouse. Pugh served as a member of the University of Maryland Medical System board. To learn more detailed information about the chronology of the events, The Baltimore Sun has published a timeline of the events.

This frenzy began almost two months ago, with Pugh remaining relatively silent. Aside from one press conference (which offered little to no explanation) Pugh has kept herself out of the spotlight since the news was dropped. Just last week however, the FBI raided City Hall and Pugh’s home. Due to pneumonia, she has been on temporary leave for almost the entirety of this story. On May 2, it all came to an end, along with her political career, when her attorney announced (without her) that she has resigned. Pugh now faces multiple corruption probes by the Federal Government. As of today (May 5, 2019), Baltimore’s new mayor is Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

Despite the constant coverage of the case, there has been little discussion about the implications of this on the city, it’s citizen, and the image of black politicians. Baltimore has a difficult history with it’s politicians, especially the mayors. In fact, Catherine Pugh is not the mayor to resign. In 2010, Mayor Sheila Dixon resigned after pleading guilty for the misappropriation of about $500 in gift cards, intended for families in need. The preceding Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake caught quite a bit of heat after her response - or lack of - in reaction to the Baltimore uprisings after the death of Freddie Gray.

The relationship in Baltimore, between the city government and it’s citizens is one of distrust. Despite this, most citizens aren’t under the belief that there isn’t corruption, so the news of the “Healthy Holly” drama wasn’t as surprising for many. It does, however, open up an interesting conversation about the ways in which black politicians, especially black women, are subjected to a higher level of scrutiny than their white counterparts. Are you aware of the other members of the Board who also received financial compensation? Neither am I. Of course, you can do a quick Google search and find out more about them, but the point is this; who’s name and political career has been slandered on National News? Catherine Pugh. Now, it is important to acknowledge that her position as the Mayor of Baltimore, puts her in a particular vein of scrutiny. Though, it’s also important to acknowledge that there are many members who received a considerable amount more than Pugh, and who have been doing this a lot longer. Who do they answer to? 

Recently, a WYZ news anchor, Mary Bubala, was let go, after she made controversial comments about the gender and race of the past three mayors. While speaking with Loyola University Maryland Professor, Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead, Bubala stated, “We’ve had three female, African-American mayors in a row,” Bubala said in setting up her question. “They were all passionate public servants. Two resigned, though. Is this a signal that a different kind of leadership is needed to move Baltimore City forward?” Her comments have sparked outrage, and have even promoted a response from former Baltimore Mayor, Sheila Dixon.

Whether we like it or not, the “Healthy Holly” controversy has sparked a lot of conversations, it’s forced politicians to be held accountable for corruption and personal interest actions, and has revealed the disproportionate targeting of black female politicians. With Baltimore’s new Mayor being a black male, it will be interesting to see how he handles the tainted history that is now the attached with holding the Mayoral seat of Baltimore.