ColumnistsLauren Victoria BurkeOp-EdOpinion

Trump Fills Cabinet Quota with Token HUD Black

In 1984, at age 33, Ben Carson became the youngest chief of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital. He pioneered a number of neurosurgical procedures and was even awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008.

Carson is a skilled neurosurgeon and has earned a number of accolades during his storied career in medicine, but none of those accomplishments speak to the skills needed to craft policy for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that President-elect Donald Trump has asked him to lead.

HUD has traditionally been the cabinet department that Republican presidents have chosen African-American nominees. It has been the predictable quota position for GOP presidents and Trump is carrying on that tradition. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan selected Sam Pierce as his HUD Secretary and in 2004, President George W. Bush chose Alfonso Jackson. But whether they were picked in part because of skin color or not, both Jackson and Pierce still had at least some experience in a government position before becoming secretary of HUD. Jackson was the former executive director of the St. Louis Housing Authority and later ran the Dallas Housing Authority. “Silent Sam” Pierce had at least served in the Department of Treasury before being selected as Reagan’s only black cabinet member.

During Pierce’s tenure, a Congressional investigation revealed that, “Pierce’s aides, who said they had been acting on his orders, distributed millions of dollars in housing subsidies to prominent Republican consultants at a time when the Reagan administration was sharply reducing the agency’s budget,” according to The New York Times.

The Times article continued: “Under President Ronald Reagan, annual spending on subsidized housing programs dropped to $8 billion from $26 billion, cuts that Mr. Pierce defended.”

Carson’s housing strategy is likely to be a mix of novice policymaking and unproven theory. That’s how policy novices who think they know everything on subjects they have no expertise typically approach government. Given that, Congress is likely to be the entity truly in charge of the policy as Carson fumbles around with the details.

Ben Carson has already shown a rugged disregard for plain fact since the time he retired from Johns Hopkins in 2013. That trait hasn’t gone unnoticed. On the day Carson was nominated, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) blasted Trump’s decision.

“Dr. Carson’s nomination to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development is frightening. He may be a brain surgeon but he is not qualified to run HUD. Donald Trump knows this,” Waters asserted in the statement. “During the Republican primary, [Trump] called him a liar, pathological and even violent. Dr. Carson himself has said he is not qualified to lead a federal agency. Now, we are expected to forget these disqualifying statements by both of them and entrust Dr. Carson with overseeing HUD, which has a budget of $47 billion.

“Millions of Americans rely on HUD assistance to help them access safe, decent, and affordable housing,” Waters said. “And they are not all in the inner cities; they are in rural and suburban areas as well. HUD provides critical investments in these areas to spur economic development and house the most vulnerable. This is no easy task. The rural and urban Americans who benefit from HUD programs deserve a strong, qualified leader at the helm of this important agency. Dr. Carson is not this person. We know it, Donald Trump knows it, and yes, even Dr. Carson knows it.”

The confirmation hearing for Carson should be quite long and entertaining. Just like Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, the choice of Carson by Trump would indicate that the department is of little to no importance to the incoming president, but that there may be major change in federal housing policy on the horizon.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African-American leadership. She can be contacted at and on Twitter at @LVBurke.

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