Just two months after Mayor Catherine Pugh released a video of herself scolding a boy she encountered on the street with a squeegee, she revealed grim details of his family problems in her second annual State of the City address.
The mayor described the boy as a 14-year-old who, following her intervention, is now in foster care. His mother is “actually homeless and an addict,” Pugh announced to dignitaries assembled in City Council chambers.
She said she personally harnessed city services in an effort to help the family and found them housing, but “in connecting them with social services learned there were many more problems that we were not aware of.”
“What I can tell you is, he is now in foster care, with a wonderful family with a mother and a father and a foster brother,” Pugh said. “But so are at least three other family members, one since her birth cocaine-addicted and she is now seven.”
Although Pugh did not name the boy whose family troubles she described in such detail, the video she made of him in January – with his face now visible – was up on her Facebook page yesterday as she gave the speech and remains there today.
[Entitled “NOW!” you can find it in the first playlist – “Mayor Moves Vlog” – in her Facebook page’s video section.]
In the initial version of the video, released by her office to illustrate “a day in the life of the mayor,” the youth’s face had been obscured.
There is no text accompanying the current video to suggest whether the boy’s mother has given permission for his face to be shown and his story to be used.
The video she made of him in January – with his face now visible – was up on her Facebook page yesterday as she gave the speech and remains there today.
The mayor presented the boy’s story as a call to listeners to open their hearts to the less fortunate in the city.
“I share this with you because there are so many others just like him,” said Pugh who also noted that she helped get the boy a job. “The impact of what happens on our streets impacts our children. I ask you to be slow to judge and more eager to help.”
Inspiring? Or Cringeworthy?
Some who heard the mayor’s remarks strongly disapproved of the release of such personal details.
“I find it grotesque,” tweeted @justintimothy. “45 did something similar during the SoU with a child born addicted that was adopted. It’s totally senseless.”
Others said they appreciated Pugh’s assistance to the family but were troubled by the public description of it.
“It seems like too many personally identifiable details,” Melissa Schober said on Twitter. “Protected heath information is a big deal and her words will be public record for ages. Better to be more circumspect.”
Some members of the local commentariat, meanwhile, applauded Pugh’s anecdote, calling it “the emotional core of the speech.”
“It’s a story that works for her,” a Baltimore Sun editorial concluded. “It emphasizes her image as being married to the job and highlights the compassionate side of a mayor who can be prickly.”
Taking him to see “Black Panther”
Pugh’s initial encounter with the youth was controversial. The video showed her rolling down her window and demanding of the boy, “Why are you not in school?”
“Why are you on the street? I’m the mayor,” she pressed. “Why are you not in school?”
In the video, the boy tried to answer, but Pugh cut him off, saying, “Get off the corner. Go to school! NOW!”
A subsequent video showed Pugh going to the boy’s school, putting her arm around him and telling the principal to make sure he signs up for the city’s Youth Works summer job program.
Since then, the mayor has returned to the story of “the boy she met on the roadside” in other public remarks, including a February 28 town hall at the University of Baltimore.
“Pugh said she helped his family find a home, helped the boy find a mentor, and even took him to see the movie ‘Black Panther,’” one report noted.
A person who works in Baltimore with the families of people struggling with drug addiction had mixed feelings about the mayor’s interactions with the child.
On one hand, “she’s going to make sure he gets the best because she has placed so much emphasis on this family,” this person said.
But on the other, this person argued, the mayor missed an opportunity to highlight the need for more programs to help addicts and their families stay together.
“We went through that years ago – taking kids away from addicted parents – and where did that get us, but a whole lot of children in foster care?” she said.
Where possible, a better approach, she said, is “working on the addiction while the children are still placed with the parents.”