Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown needs to return contributions linked to Bill Cosby

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Alvin Brown’s decision to attend a political fundraiser hosted by Bill Cosby was already controversial when it was first reported the Jacksonville mayor missed important discussions about the city’s budget to visit New York in September for the event.

That was all before multiple allegations of sexual assault by Cosby resurfaced this month.

Now, it’s likely Brown’s connection to Cosby will become fodder in the highly-competitive Jacksonville mayoral race.

In September, the Florida Times-Union reported that “for donations ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, guests were invited to join Brown as well as Cosby, former New York Mayor David Dinkins and others” at the Harvard Club of New York. The money was being raised for Taking Jacksonville to the Next Level, a political committee that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Brown’s re-election.

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On the day of the fundraiser, the Jacksonville City Council members started their meeting at 5 p.m. and were expected to debate the proposed 2014-15 budget into the wee hours. David Beattie, a senior adviser for Brown’s re-election confirmed that Brown did attend the event, reports David Bauerlein and Nate Monroe of the Times-Union.

Brown’s absence did not sit well with the City Council.

“What a slap to the people of Jacksonville,” Council President Clay Yarborough said at the time.

“I think it sends the wrong message,” said Councilman Bill Gulliford was quoted as saying.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, the Taking Jacksonville to the Next Level political committee raised approximately $18,000 from donors who contributed on or near the day of the fundraiser and also have a New York address.

Brown needs to return those and any contributions linked to Cosby, who has now become the face of sexual assault.

The renewed attention to a dark chapter for Cosby began last month when a comedian, Hannibal Buress, assailed him during a stand-up performance in Philadelphia, Cosby’s hometown, calling him a “rapist.” His remarks were captured on video and posted online, gaining wide exposure.

It was harsh criticism of the veteran entertainer known equally for his charming standup comedy, ethnically groundbreaking 1984-92 NBC TV sitcom “The Cosby Show” and demands for personal responsibility directed at fellow African-Americans.

Adding to the growing firestorm: One of Cosby’s accusers, Barbara Bowman, leveled allegations of sexual assault against him in interviews and in an online column for the Washington Post. Bowman wrote that in 1985, she was 17 and an aspiring actress when Cosby “brainwashed me into viewing him as a father figure, and then assaulted me multiple times.”

Cosby, who was never criminally charged in any case, settled a civil suit in 2006 with another woman over an alleged incident two years before.

He stonewalled National Public Radio host Scott Simon during an interview aired this weekend with Cosby and his wife, Camille, about their African-American art collection. Cosby fell silent when asked by Simon about “serious allegations raised about you in recent days,” which prompted the host to say, “You’re shaking your head, no. … Do you have any response to those charges? Shaking your head, no.”

Cosby also declined comment when asked by the Associated Press about the allegations last week in Washington, where the Smithsonian Institution was opening an exhibit on the collection.

Whether the latest scrutiny will substantially affect his still-active career has yet to be seen. An appearance on CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman” was canceled, and another engagement, on “The Queen Latifah Show” on Oct. 30, was characterized by that show as a postponement granted at Cosby’s request.

What is clear is that any political candidate standing arm-in-arm with Cosby risks alienating female voters.

If Brown does not distance himself from Cosby by returning the tainted contributions, you can bet the picture to the right of Brown and Cosby will find its way into several mailers.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.