Catherine Pugh became the leader of Baltimore at a pivotal moment for the city. A former city councilwoman and state Senate majority leader, Pugh in 2016 won the first mayoral election since the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who died while in police custody. Since then, Baltimore has been racked by record crime and rocked by scandals in its police department.
Pugh has taken decisive action to address her city’s challenges. This January, she fired the troubled police chief and replaced him with a widely respected 30-year veteran of the force. Similarly, one of her first acts as mayor was to oust the long-standing head of the city’s scandal-plagued housing authority.
Last August, after witnessing protests turn violent in Charlottesville, Va., over the removal of a Confederate statue, Pugh wanted to act quickly and quietly. She ordered a contractor to remove four monuments in the middle of the night. “I didn’t want a whole lot of fanfare. I didn’t want the packs of people marching through our streets,” she says. “I just wanted to protect the citizens and remove the stains that had been there for so long.”