BALTIMORE— Catherine E. Pugh was sworn in today as the 50th Mayor of Baltimore, delivering an inaugural address that focused on job creation, crime reduction and investment in education and struggling neighborhoods. She is the third Black woman to hold the office.
Deeming herself a “servant leader,” Mayor Pugh declared that her first order of business would be penning a letter to president-elect Donald Trump, whose campaign platform included a pledge to fix America’s inner cities.
“When he talks about infrastructure….I say that’s our city. When he talks about jobs….I say that’s our city.”
Inside the city’s historic War Memorial building, the formal ceremony for 66-year-old Pugh drew a capacity crowd, mixed with residents and a host of elected officials. Maryland’s governor, several former mayors and members of Congress were among those in attendance.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings spoke of how Pugh took to the streets seeking to calm tensions when Baltimore erupted in unrest following the April 2015 police custody death of Freddie Gray.
“She began to sing `This Little Light of Mine [I’m gonna let it shine]’” Cummings recalled. “You said to the young people at Penn North, this is the greatest city in the world.”
God has prepared you,” Cummings said, “for this moment of destiny.”
Pugh, a Philadelphia native with six siblings, came to Baltimore in the 1970s to attend Morgan State University, earning both an undergraduate degree and an MBA.
The longtime entrepreneur has a wealth of experience: she has worked as a banker, business developer, Dean of Strayer Business College, as a journalist and children’s author. Known for her impeccable attire (she favors dresses and high heels), her ventures include co-ownership of a consignment boutique.
For the past 15 years, Pugh has held public office, earning a reputation for seeking innovative policy solutions to thorny issues, cross-racial cooperation and public/private partnerships.
She served as a member of the Baltimore City Council from 1999 to 2003. Two years later, she was appointed to the House of Delegates in the Maryland General Assembly, where she served for a year before winning a Senate seat in 2006.
She then held various leadership roles in the state legislature, moving through the ranks to become Majority Leader. She has led the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, and, of late, served as President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL).
During her tenure as a lawmaker, Pugh has actively sponsored legislation that led to the passage of more than 150 bills. They range from a law that raised the age that students could drop out of high school, to advocating for greater police accountability measures in the aftermath of Gray’s death.
She also fought to help pass legislation that raised Maryland’s minimum wage. The effort earned her an invitation to sit in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box when President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union speech.
“Mayor Pugh is a fierce advocate for the people of this community,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who noted that the new mayor (a Democrat) employs a bipartisan approach. “I have no doubt she will work tirelessly. …and deliver real and meaningful change.”
As hundreds of friends, family and supporters cheered upon her formal swearing in, Pugh kept her speech brief.
The new mayor thanked her alma mater (Morgan’s world-renowned choir performed) and indicated that several former cheerleading teammates were in the audience. “I’ll be the best cheerleader Baltimore has ever had,” she said.
To date, Pugh has co-founded the Baltimore Design School, a public school for 6th through 12th graders, and was the visionary behind the Baltimore Running Festival (aka the Baltimore Marathon), now in its 16th year. Pugh, an avid runner, said the event has had an economic impact in excess of $30 million dollars.
She also created the Fish Out of Water Project, which placed fish sculptures in tourist areas. It raised $1 million dollars for city schools which helped provide computer programming and musical instruments for children.
Pugh previously ran for Mayor in 2011, losing the Democratic primary to her predecessor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Despite her past efforts, the longtime public servant didn’t mince words about the challenges in Baltimore—a city of nearly 700,000 residents and its share of blight, crime and poverty.
“We can do better and will do better by you… 77,000 thousand are unemployed and 3,000 are homeless.”
Pugh has said she is already planning various initiatives to ignite investment in the city, create more affordable housing and eliminate thousands of rundown properties.
Among the ideas the new mayor proposed during her campaign is a mobile employment unit which would travel to neighborhoods and help residents fill out job applications using a database to determine which employers have openings. “We have got to get people working,” she said.
Pugh’s team planned a day of activities to mark the inauguration, including a series of free community celebrations and a ticketed $100 gala in downtown Baltimore.
On Wednesday morning, she begins day one of her new role with a Board of Estimates meeting. Becoming mayor of Baltimore is a position Pugh sought previously but didn't win until now. The city's newest leader feels ready. “I’m excited and enthusiastic,” she said.