Comedian, actor and Jell-O pitchman Bill Cosby comes to Baltimore next month in an unexpected role: political fundraiser.
Cosby will be the star attraction Jan. 11 at a $4,000-a-plate dinner at the Tremont Grand on North Charles Street to benefit Otis Rolley, a former city housing and planning official who is challenging Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in the Democratic primary for mayor.
There also will be a $500-a-head reception and a $75 stand-up performance.
But don't expect a laugh a minute from Cosby, who in recent years has spoken forcefully and sometimes controversially about the need for black self-reliance.
"While I'm there on the 11th, I will be very happy to take pictures with people, greet them and say hello — and with a great deal of clenched-fist seriousness about the work that has to be done," Cosby told me in a telephone interview Wednesday.
The Cos agreed to do the event, and some door-to-door campaigning with Rolley at some point, after talking with Rolley by telephone recently.
That conversation took place at the behest of Karen Miller, who worked with Rolley at City Hall in various capacities and currently serves as his fundraiser. (She was Mayor Sheila Dixon’s communications director and he was Dixon’s chief of staff during her first year in office.)
Miller had arranged for Cosby to come to town twice, for a Park Heights block party in 2008 and for Black History Month in 2009, when she worked for then-Mayor Dixon.
During that time, they talked about Rolley's master's degree in planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his poor childhood in Jersey City, N.J., where Rolley said he was physically and sexually abused.
"I do have a degree from MIT," Rolley recalled telling Cosby. "I also have a Ph.D. from the School of Hard Knocks."
Cosby was impressed.
"He spoke to me about his life and how he came up," Cosby said. "For the city of Baltimore, it just appears to me that this is a young man who, no matter what comes at him, he is not going to turn away from the people."
Cosby said he was basing his endorsement in large part on Miller's recommendation. Of course, Miller vouched for Dixon, too.