Phylicia Rashad has found herself embroiled in controversy after expressing public support for Bill Cosby’s release from prison, with some prominent Black voices calling for her dismissal as dean of Howard University’s College of Fine ArtsBy ASHRAF KHALIL Associated PressJuly 1, 2021, 9:10 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWASHINGTON — Phylicia Rashad has found herself embroiled in controversy after expressing public support for Bill Cosby’s release from prison, with some prominent Black voices calling for her dismissal as dean of Howard University’s College of Fine Arts.It remains to be seen whether Rashad’s position at Howard is in jeopardy, but the university quickly distanced itself from her comments.Rashad, who played Cosby’s wife for years on the family sitcom “The Cosby Show,” was named dean of the college with great fanfare this year. Cosby was released from prison Wednesday after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his sexual assault conviction, ruling that Cosby’s agreement with the previous district attorney in 2005 should have prevented him from being charged in the 2018 case.After the ruling, Rashad tweeted a picture of Cosby, with the message: “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted — a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”The tweet drew an immediate online response with a few expressing support but many others attacking Rashad for defending a man accused of drugging and raping multiple women over a period of decades.Some of the harshest critics called for Rashad to be removed from her post, saying her apparent indifference to serial sexual assault allegations made her unfit for a position of authority over students.Jelani Cobb, a Columbia University journalism professor and frequent New Yorker magazine contributor, tweeted directly to Howard University, bluntly stating: “This person should not be a Dean.”Rashad’s support for Cosby is not new. She had publicly defended him during his years-long legal battles. But the rise of the #Metoo movement and her new position at a prominent educational institution have contributed to the intense backlash as Cosby goes free.Hours after her tweet Wednesday, Rashad sent out a clarification, stating her sympathy for all survivors of sexual assault but not mentioning Cosby or his case.“I fully support survivors of sexual assault coming forward. My post was in no way intended to be insensitive to their truth,” she wrote. “Personally, I know from friends and family that such abuse has lifelong residual effects. My heartfelt wish is for healing.”In a statement, Howard acknowledged Rashad’s clarification and said her initial tweet “lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault. Personal positions of University leadership do not reflect Howard University’s policies. We will continue to advocate for survivors fully and advocate their right to be heard.”Rashad is a prominent Howard alumnus, and her appointment as fine arts dean was hailed as a homecoming, with Howard Provost Anthony K. Wutoh stating that her “passion for the arts and student success makes her a perfect fit for this role.”Cosby, 83, had served nearly three years of a three-to-10-year sentence for drugging and violating Temple University sports administrator Andrea Constand in 2004. After his release, he tweeted that he has always maintained his innocence and thanked his fans, supporters and friends who stood by him.———Associated Press writer Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Thursday extended the nationwide ban on evictions for a month to help millions of tenants unable to make rent payments during the coronavirus pandemic, but said this is the last time it plans to do so.Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, extended the evictions moratorium from June 30 until July 31. The CDC said “this is intended to be the final extension of the moratorium.”A Biden administration official said the last month would be used for an “all hands on deck” multi-agency campaign to prevent a wave of evictions. One of the reasons the moratorium was put in place was to prevent further spread of COVID-19 by people put out on the streets and into shelters.As of the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.The news brought a sense of relief to tenants on the verge of being evicted and whose only lifeline was the CDC moratorium.Among them was Cristina Livingston, a 55-year-old mother of two from Bay Harbor Islands, Florida, who lost her job as an administrative assistant during the pandemic. She couldn’t get federal rental assistance to pay upwards of $14,000 in back rent because her landlord refused to take it.“Ah, great. I’m just asking for a little bit more time. I just need the time to move out of here in a dignified way,” said Livingston, who said her biggest fear was that she would be evicted without notice before finding a new job.“It’s been a devastating experience,” she said. “I have never been in this situation. It’s killing me because I’m afraid anytime somebody is going to come and get me out of here. I don’t have a place to go.”Ronald Leonard, a 68-year-old retired heavy equipment operator from Daytona Beach, was facing eviction from his one-bedroom apartment. His landlord also is refusing to take federal assistance to cover $5,000 in back rent.“I don’t have to worry about July no more. I feel a lot better,” said Leonard, who still fears being forced to live on the streets once the moratorium expires. ”It’s heartbreaking. It’s not going to be good all. I’m not healthy anymore. There is no way I’m going to live on the street.”The extension announcement Thursday was accompanied by a flurry of administration activity. The Treasury Department issued new guidance encouraging states and local governments to streamline distribution of the nearly $47 billion in available emergency rental assistance funding. And Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta released an open letter to state courts around the country encouraging them to pursue a number of alternatives that would protect both tenants and landlords.Gupta’s letter states that “eviction filings are expected to overwhelm courts across the country,” unless additional steps are taken.The White House had acknowledged Wednesday that the emergency pandemic protection, which had been extended before, would have to end at some point. The trick is devising the right sort of off-ramp to make the transition without major social upheaval.Gupta’s letter to state courts encourages them to do everything possible to prevent or delay evictions.“Losing one’s home can have catastrophic economic and psychological effects,” she states. “The entire legal community, including the Department of Justice, the bar, and the judiciary, has an obligation to do what it can to ensure that each and every individual has meaningful and equal access to justice before facing such consequences.”That includes giving tenants as much time as possible, and making sure both tenants and landlords are aware of any emergency relief funds that may be available.She references steps made by state courts in Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania and directs state courts to an online assessment tool designed by the National Center for State Courts to help jurisdictions determine the most appropriate model.This week, dozens of members of Congress wrote to President Joe Biden and Walensky, calling for the moratorium to be not only extended but also strengthened in some ways.The letter, spearheaded by Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Jimmy Gomez of California and Cori Bush of Missouri, called for an unspecified extension to allow the emergency rental assistance included in the American Rescue Plan to get into the hands of tenants.Ending the assistance too abruptly, they said, would disproportionately hurt some of the minority communities that were hit so hard by the virus, which has killed more than 600,000 people in the United States. They also echoed many housing advocates by calling for the moratorium’s protections to be made automatic, requiring no special steps from the tenant to gain its protections.“The impact of the federal moratorium cannot be understated, and the need to strengthen and extend it is an urgent matter of health, racial, and economic justice,” the letter said.Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called an extension of the eviction ban “the right thing to do — morally, fiscally, politically, and as a continued public health measure.”But landlords, who have opposed the moratorium and challenged it in court, were against any extension. They have argued the focus should be on speeding up the distribution of rental assistance.Others welcomed the moratorium extension but said the Biden administration needs to think about more long-term solutions, including expanding the federal government’s housing voucher program for low-income tenants. Even before the pandemic, there were 24 million people who would have benefited from the program but couldn’t get help — many of those people of color.“For now. extending the eviction moratorium will protect the millions of people behind on rent, but many of these renters faced a similar deadline only months ago and they will face this deadline again next month,” Alicia Mazzara, a senior research analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told reporters. “They need a long-term solution, not another Band-Aid. Policy makers should seize this moment to enact a more enduring solution.”
WASHINGTON — Marty Walsh remembers what it was like when a Cabinet secretary would come to town.“It really is a big deal. They give you the dates, and you just clear your schedule,” said Walsh, a former mayor of Boston.He recalls 300 people packing into a room to hear Julián Castro, then Housing and Urban Development secretary. “He was speaking on behalf of President Obama and Vice President Biden, and people hung on every word.”Now Walsh, as secretary of labor, is on the other side of the equation, crisscrossing the country on behalf of President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan. As the massive infrastructure package goes through torturous negotiations in Congress, Walsh and a handful of other Cabinet secretaries have launched an ambitious travel schedule to promote the plan and the larger Biden agenda.“It’s clear the administration has decided to take their message on the road,” said Ravi Perry, head of the political science department at Howard University. “The amount of trips, how much they’ve traveled … there really has been a shift.”Starting around the beginning of May, Biden’s Cabinet members have made dozens of TV appearances and trips around the country, promoting the Biden agenda with an ambitious roadshow.“I don’t know that I can think of an equivalent to this kind of rollout,” said HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, who in recent weeks has traveled to Newark, New Jersey; Kansas City, Missouri; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. “We are an extension of the administration. We are carrying the president’s agenda.”That agenda stands at a critical crossroads as the infrastructure package faces a unified bloc of Senate Republicans, who decry it as excessive and unnecessary. Meanwhile some Senate Democrats remain leery of using their slight numbers advantage to force the package through without some bipartisan support.Last week, Biden called off negotiations with a group of Republican senators and announced he would be formulating a new approach. The bill is Biden’s top legislative priority and its fate could prove critical to his ability to maintain momentum early in his administration. With simmering issues such as voting rights reform, police brutality, immigration and gun control on the agenda, Biden’s ability to deliver on his proposals is being closely watched by both Republicans and the Democrats’ own restless progressive wing.The Cabinet outreach campaign is particularly striking in the context of the country’s gradual emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although restrictions on mass gatherings are being lifted all around the country, several Cabinet secretaries noted that the national mood is not quite ready for large political rallies.“You’re not getting the crowds, of course,” said Walsh, who misses the intimacy of working lunches without social distancing restrictions. “It really restricts what you can do. You want to be around people.”Much of the traveling has been done by Biden’s Jobs Cabinet: Walsh, Fudge, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.Buttigieg, who said he was “itching to get on the road since Day One,” said the presence of a Cabinet secretary brings particular gravitas. More than perhaps any position in government, he said, Cabinet secretaries are a direct extension of the president and his policies.“You represent the administration and the president, writ large,” said Buttigieg, who has traveled to North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. “It’s a way to let people know that they’re important.”A former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg recalled, “It was a pretty big deal if a regional administrator for a federal agency came to town, much less a Cabinet secretary.”The campaign is proceeding with active coordination from the White House. Fudge said her department plans her travel schedule, but the White House regularly makes requests for her to appear in certain places or arranges for her to team up with another secretary for a joint appearance. Biden announced the informal Jobs Cabinet grouping in April, telling reporters that the quintet would be asked “to take special responsibility to explain the plan to the American public.”Anita Dunn, senior adviser to Biden, said the Cabinet members had largely been confined to long-distance television interviews for the first few months of the administration.“It’s all been virtual until quite recently,” she said.Dunn described the Cabinet members as “accomplished people who represent the administration and allow us to increase our reach.”It also helps that several of the secretaries are former mayors, like Buttigieg and Walsh, or former governors like Granholm and Raimondo, enabling them to find easy common ground with local officials and stakeholders.“That’s a huge advantage for the administration,” Dunn said.The logistics and cost of planning a secretary’s visit are also far less daunting than they would be for the president or vice president. Dunn said the secretaries travel on a mixture of government planes and commercial airlines, and Cabinet secretaries have their own security details, but not Secret Service protections. As a result, the administration can get the impact of a direct presidential emissary for far less cost and hassle.In some cases the secretary’s role is to rally sympathy and momentum; in others they seek to reassure nervous audiences in deeply Republican states that the Biden agenda won’t leave them behind.Granholm, speaking on the phone during a visit to West Virginia, said her primary goal on that trip was to reassure citizens of the coal mining-dependent state that Biden’s clean energy plans won’t destroy their economy. A former governor of Michigan, Granholm compared West Virginia to her home state when the auto industry started contracting.“I get that fear and nervousness when a state’s whole identity and economy is wrapped around a sector that’s shrinking. I get when a community has been on its knees,” she said.Her presence in West Virginia “means that the president of the United States deeply cares,” Granholm said.The approach represents a direct departure from the previous administration. Former President Donald Trump’s Cabinet secretaries did their share of pre-pandemic speaking engagements, but Trump generally preferred to be his own messenger and promoter through Twitter, interviews with sympathetic media outlets and famously raucous rallies with himself as the centerpiece.“It’s a huge shift in how Cabinet members are being used by the president,” Perry said. “What we’re seeing here is a much more decentralized executive branch. In some ways, it’s a return to normalcy in terms of domestic diplomacy.”———Follow Khalil on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ashrafkhalilAssociated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.