Corruption in Baltimore

This is my shocked face.

This week saw federal agents descending on the home of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, seizing documents and boxes of a children’s book Pugh wrote.  Pugh sold about $500K worth of these books to the University of Maryland Medical System for distribution to inpatient children while she was a member of the system’s board of directors.  If that weren’t enough, she also sold several hundred thousands of dollars in books to Kaiser Permanente health care plan, while it was negotiating a contract for Baltimore city employee health care coverage.  Meanwhile, Pugh has been on paid leave of absence for about a month, with her criminal defense attorney maintaining she is not sufficiently “lucid” to decide whether to resign as Mayor.  Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, sometimes mentioned as a potential primary challenger to President Trump, has called on her to resign

Image courtesy of

Ethics lapses and incompetence in Baltimore city government have never been in short supply, causing the featured image in this post to be my surprised face.  Her predecessor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, presided over the city during the most significant city riots since 1968 (the murder of MLK Jr.) in the wake of the Freddy Gray death after Baltimore Police Department “rough ride.”  Her predecessor, Sheila Dixon, resigned in disgrace as a condition of a plea deal after she was indicted on 12 counts germane to public corruption.  All of this occurred against a backdrop of a city in crisis, immersed in poverty, with a rising murder and crime rate, the highest heroin addiction rate in the U.S., a gang warfare scene worthy of The Wire, and a failing public education system.

Image courtesy of

Even against this backdrop, I would live in Baltimore in a heartbeat.  Though plagued by urban blight and city mismanagement, it continues to thrive for many of its residents, with wonderful old city neighborhoods such as Mount Vernon, Federal Hill, Canton, Fell’s Point, Charles Village, and Hampden.  The restaurant scene is on fire, including a number of old school Jewish delis, Little Italy, The Helmand (Afghan cuisine owned by the brother of former President and strongman Hamid Karzai) and a wide range of American and ethnic foods.  There are two professional sports teams, a world class conservatory, an extraordinary symphony, a Triple Crown racetrack, a rising stage and theater scene, a number of very good colleges and universities, including the Ivy-equivalent Johns Hopkins University (#10 in US News and World Report’s annual rankings of national universities).  The city was, and is, a hub of the defense industry, shipping, finance, medicine, bioscience, and manufacturing.  It is on the Washington to New York corridor and within striking distance of a lot of great places to visit, with an international airport boasting direct flights to a number of European capitals and major cities, including Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dublin, Madrid, Istanbul, and Venice.  And no, white suburbanites, you aren’t going to get immediately shot if you visit there — most of the crime is localized and most of it is tied to the drug trade.  As I always say to folks visiting Baltimore:  don’t want to get shot?  Don’t sling heroin and stay out of the yellow spots on the heat map.

I wish Baltimore could get its government and public services act together, because the rest of the city is to die for – no pun intended.

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Butch Bracknell
About Butch Bracknell
Butch Bracknell is an international security lawyer. A career Marine, he is a father, Truman National Security Project member, and Sorensen Political Leaders Program fellow. All posts are his personal views only, not representing any organization. Follow him on Twitter at @ButchBracknell.


  1. Gustopher says:

    Meanwhile, Pugh has been on paid leave of absence for about a month, with her criminal defense attorney maintaining she is not sufficiently “lucid” to decide whether to resign as Mayor.

    I don’t want to minimize whatever health problems Ms. Pugh has that apparently leave her drifting in and out of consciousness, but if she’s not lucid enough to decide whether or not to resign as mayor after a month, her caregivers should be looking into short and long-term disability options.

    This is one of the problems with the American health care system — people get their health insurance through their job, and cannot afford to quit during a medical crisis.

    I hope that she has a speedy return to lucidity and health, and can get back to the important work of shaking down businesses competing for bids from her office.

  2. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    ” As I always say to folks visiting Baltimore: don’t want to get shot? Don’t sling heroin.”

    Good advice, anywhere. From what I could see on Zillow, there were properties where rents and prices were reasonable also. As more of a negative factor, the large numbers of properties available at auction (Zillow was showing 20 per page and it seemed like there were several pages of them) could trigger a binge of property speculation that will turn your town into an East Coast equivalent of another city with great ethnic restaurants, 2 major league sports teams, an extraordinary symphony (and opera company) and rising theater scene–Seattle.

    On the other hand, the listing of a 4 bdrm/3bath condo at $12,500,000 may indicate that you’re already there.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    Ahh…Charm City…I appreciate you highlighting all the good things about Baltimore…it isn’t all the Wire…as you note, outside of certain crime ridden pockets, it’s really quite nice and interesting…it’s also a prime example of a lot of American cities, with so much potential, but also so much heart ache because of the disastrous War on Drugs…if drug addiction were treated as a medical issue rather than a crime issue, Baltimore and a whole lot of other cities would greatly benefit…

  4. Tyrell says:

    Baltimore is indeed an historical city with many famous places to visit, and its crab cakes are legendary. Too bad that it has gone through several years of mismanagement and corruption in city hall. The Ravens have had some great years, but the Orioles great teams are in the distant past.

  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Spent a few days in Baltimore years ago, about the time the waterfront was developing and before Camden Yards was built. Thought it was a place that would be interesting to live, but the upswing didn’t last. The only time I’ve back was on business where we made the obligatory trim to the Camden Yards neighborhood for dinner and drinks.

  6. de stijl says:

    White people have a predictable reaction to minority majority cities.

    That reaction is “I’m uncomfortable.” The shoe is suddenly on the other foot. Unknown, unacknowledged privileges are now absent.

    “I have to be deferential, civil, and even sometimes subservient.”

    Welcome to inverse America! You are the outsider, the stranger, the interloper, the alien incursion, the untrusted, the sketchy presence.

  7. de stijl says:


    Her predecessor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, presided over the city during the most significant city riots since 1968 (the murder of MLK Jr.) in the wake of the Freddy Gray death after Baltimore Police Department “rough ride.”

    Why is any of the above applicable to Pugh?

  8. de stijl says:

    This is the sub-head.

    This is my shocked face.

    Why? Why are you shocked?

    One could easily assume that by that you mean that Baltimore = corruption.

    Tread carefully!

  9. ButchBracknell says:

    @de stijl: I take your point but I’m perfectly comfortable there in any neighborhood. Lived 3 years in West Baltimore.

  10. ButchBracknell says:

    @de stijl: You’re perceptive: that’s exactly what I mean.

  11. ButchBracknell says:

    @de stijl: nothing to do with Pugh but everything to do with Baltimore civic leadership.

  12. Slugger says:

    The Mayor was paid $178,000 last year making her the 55th highest paid city official in Baltimore. The lowest paid Oriole gets $550,000. The CEOs of companies the size of the city are paid ten times as much. People don’t want to see politicians get big salaries; I think that they are pennywise and pound foolish because corruption is inevitable in such a world.

  13. de stijl says:


    How does Rawlings-Blake relate to Pugh? I do not see a connection. The 2015 protests / riots (yes, those two are different, even if they happened on the same day in the same area) happened because of Gray. That didn’t happen in a decontextualized vacuum. And has naught to do with Pugh.

    You’re hanging your argument on corruption. With Pugh, that makes sense; if the charges are true, she is.

    Highlighting Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Freddie Gray protests in your OP is irrelevant.

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: What I was seeing as the connection was Pugh as a continuance of a pattern of relatively ham-fisted corruption of the sort that is legendary in my hometown of Seattle (yet another Seattle link). But then again, I am just an ignint cracker.

  15. Kyril says:

    Hate to say it, but I get the feeling the author wrote: “And no, white suburbanites, you aren’t going to get shot if you visit there” but then felt, well, maybe I should say “immediately shot”. Baltimore is weird. It’s one of those places where if you complain about safety, they say “Didn’t you read the crime heatmap??”… it’s been losing population forever and they brag about the symphony and restaurants, which pretty much every city has. Hope my hometown gets a grip this century…

  16. de stijl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I fail to see how Freddy Gray’s death and the aftermath are “ham-fisted corruption” unless you assign decades of habitual police thuggery and malfeasance at SRB’s doorstep. SRB did not induce those cops to kill Gray by extralegal force.

    We know both from the recent past and the ugly now that many major cities have racist OOC cops: LAPD, Chicago PD, NYPD, etc, etc. Stop And Frisk was the acknowledged best practice until a few years ago.

    IRT to Mayor SRB, Bracknell’s “corruption” charge is nonsense. The best one can lay on her is that she failed to corral (just like every other mayor previously) an utterly out of control police force that routinely uses extra-legal beat downs for fun and profit and for the lulz and because they can. If so, the same charge can be laid at the doorstep of every other Baltimore mayor since basically forever.

    It’s be like blaming Trump for the entirety of the national deficit: factually true in an obtuse way, but a super sketchy no-context argument.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    We know both from the recent past and the ugly now that many major cities have racist OOC cops: LAPD, Chicago PD, NYPD, etc, etc. Stop And Frisk was the acknowledged best practice until a few years ago.

    Another problem that could be eased if the disastrous War on Drugs was ended…

  18. ButchBracknell says:

    @de stijl: reading is fundamental: “ethical lapses and incompetence.” For the sake of space, I didn’t even touch the ridiculousness of the merry go round of corrupt BPD senior leadership.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    Didn’t read this post ‘til now because my reaction to the headline was, “Given what else is going on, who cares about a mayor’s two bit children’s book scandal.” But it ended up being a nice piece. Thanks.

  20. de stijl says:


    reading is fundamental

    Well, then fuck you too, I guess. This exchange went badly wrong.

  21. ButchBracknell says:

    @de stijl: It was a normal disagreement over interpretation until you cursed at me. This is your one warning: next time you’re in the box.

  22. John Dodd says:

    Corruption in Baltimore is much, much worse than anyone realizes, and the cover-up would make the Watergate bunch insanely jealous! That massive cover-up has been orchestrated by Baltimore lawyers cited at by investigative reporter Christian Stork. This expose’ published in 2014 was also titled “Baltimore Lawyer Threw Own Client’s Case To Protect Bank-Robbing Banker From Scrutiny” and, thanks to efforts by the powerhouse Charm City law firm, and the bank-robbing bankster, has been seen by almost no one! Google defunct Beckett Brown International (BBI) to see a slew of racketeering and corporate espionage crimes committed by these saboteurs and predators of the corporate underworld! Much more to come…