President-elect Donald Trump has appointed retired neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson to serve as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Carson will become the first Seventh-day Adventist to hold a cabinet-level position in the United States government. Carson will succeed Democrat Julian Castro as the 17th HUD secretary, leading a department with a nearly $50 billion budget that provides rental assistance for over 5 million households. HUD also oversees enforcement of federal fair housing laws.
During the Republican primary race, Carson was the only candidate in a crowded field to briefly overtake Donald Trump as frontrunner. His national prominence provided a short-lived opportunity for Seventh-day Adventists to define their faith before national media. However, Carson soon faded and dropped out of the race without winning a single primary contest.
Throughout the contest, Trump repeatedly maligned Carson, calling him “pathological” and asked a crowd of 1,500 supporters in Iowa, “How stupid are the people of Iowa to believe this crap?” referring to details of Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands. Trump also called into question Carson’s Seventh-day Adventist faith. In a CNN interview, Trump compared Carson’s “pathological temper” to a child molestor, saying “you don’t cure these people.”
Those slights were soon forgotten. In a televised news conference at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Carson endorsed Trump. Trump said of Carson then “Everybody loves him and truly, truly admires what he’s done,” and called him a “special, special person and a special man.”
In an interview with NewsMax, Carson admitted that he would have rather endorsed someone other than Trump but said, “that scenario isn’t available.” Carson said that after talking with Trump, he was promised that he would assist a Trump administration in an advisory capacity, maybe more. He declined to elaborate.
On November 22, Trump tweeted that he was considering Ben Carson for HUD secretary a week after Carson adviser and confidant Armstrong Williams told the press Carson would not accept a cabinet appointment. “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience; he's never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency," Williams said. Carson later clarified that Trump needed “independent voices” and that he would continue to work with the Trump transition team.
Today, Carson accepted the HUD secretary appointment tweeting, “I am honored to accept the opportunity to serve our country and in the Trump Administration."
Many on Twitter celebrated the appointment, saying that Carson will be the first HUD secretary to have lived in public housing. AP clarified, noting, “Carson has not said whether his family ever lived in federally funded housing or received Section 8 subsidies to help pay rent, but as a political figure, he has criticized such public assistance programs for creating "dependency" on the government among low-income minorities.”
Democratic Congressional Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement calling Carson a “disconcerting and disturbingly unqualified choice to lead a department as complex and consequential as Housing and Urban Development.”
Michael T. Nixon, Legal Coordinator at the Fair Housing Justice Center in Long Island City, Queens, New York, and a Seventh-day Adventist, expressed concern for how Carson’s appointment might impact fair housing.
“Everyone that I have talked to in the fair housing community is just as stunned as I am at his appointment,” Nixon said. “There really just isn't any way to predict how this will affect the funding of fair housing groups across the country as well as HUD's obligation to enforce fair housing laws.”
Nixon noted that America has made strides in providing fair housing within the past year. He cited the Supreme Court's decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., which preserved the disparate impact theory of liability under the Fair Housing Act; HUD's recently-released rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing; and HUD's guidance on how criminal records should not automatically preclude persons from housing.
Nixon also expressed concern over Carson's Washington Times op-ed last year calling desegregation efforts “a failed socialist experiment.” “It was pretty alarming at the time, and even more so now that he has been nominated to serve as the Secretary of HUD,” Nixon said. “If he allows that opinion to shape the way he runs HUD, that does not bode well for victims of housing discrimination across the country that will reach out to fair housing groups or HUD directly seeking justice.”
Noting that Carson was a beneficiary of public housing and other government assistance programs “that enabled him and his family to better themselves and take advantage of better opportunities,” Nixon expressed hope that Carson would reconnect with his own story.
“If he remembers where he came from,” Nixon said, “then he has an opportunity to do some great work here. If not, then we will brace for the worst and try to mitigate whatever damage his leadership may cause.”
Carson’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the United States Senate.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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