Philadelphians mixed on Bill Cosby’s hometown legacy after allegations

Charles Mostoller

Bill Cosby calls Jannie Blackwell “Richard Allen.”

“Because I was born in Richard Allen projects,” said Blackwell, a four-term city councilwoman who grew up at 11th and Poplar Streets, “and he’s from there, although he’s older. But whenever he sees me, if I say Richard Allen, he knows it’s me.”

Last week, Blackwell said, she watched some “Cosby Show” re-runs, because she doesn’t know how long they’ll remain on TV in light of recent allegations that the comedian and actor sexually abused more than two 20 women.

“It’s very sad,” Blackwell said of the allegations, “I only know good things about him.”

Cosby’s star has been slipping as the outrage against his alleged misconduct, some of stretching back four decades, and Philadelphia’s faith in their hometown comic is slipping, too.

Last week, Cosby resigned as a trustee of Temple university. In the past week, Cosby’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was defaced, and the Navy stripped him of the honorary title of Chief Petty Officer.

City Councilman Jim Kenney, a lifelong South Philadelphian who has served on council since 1992, said the number of allegations against Cosby has shaken his faith in the comedian. He compared Cosby’s descent to that of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

“JoePa could have stopped it, and he didn’t,” Kenney said. Does it change Cosby’s legacy in Philadelphia?

“Yeah,” he said. “I think so. Unfortunately, yes.”

At the center of The Gallery, hung on a pole along with other key figures in the city’s history, is a portrait of Cosby. James Britt, of Mount Airy, said he’s not so sure the portrait should come down just yet.

“What took so long for them to come forward?” he said of Cosby’s accusers. “I like Bill Cosby, he’s a good guy. Let’s see what happens.”

Gallery officials did not return a call requesting comment.

Meghan Shortt, who grew up in Long Island, New York, and who now calls Philadelphia home, is a graduate of Temple University.

“He’s a big part of that,” she said. “It shouldn’t tarnish Temple’s reputation because he did that. People do bad things all the time I don’t think it should have an effect on where they’re from or who they’re affiliated with. Everybody should be judged individually.”

Would she welcome Bill Cosby into her home?

“I probably would,” she said, “and I would probably grill him about it.”

“It’s just weird that they’re all coming forward now,” she said. “And it’s like one person did it, so now everyone is going to jump on. I would like to see them investigate it more and figure out the truth before everyone is freaking out about it.”

Shortt said she noticed Cosby’s portrait hanging in The Gallery.

Should they take it down?

“Not until a verdict is made,” she said. “If he is, then yes, maybe they should.”

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