Wealthy homeowners in gentrified urban areas owe it to their poorer neighbors to help turn around blighted parts of America’s cities, Ben Carson said in his first televised interview since becoming the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Mr. Carson, the retired neurosurgeon-turned-cabinet member, chose a close friend and a comedian — Armstrong Williams and Steve Harvey — to conduct the interview, and with that friendly audience, he was able to avoid any discussion of how he might deal with President Trump’s proposal to cut his agency’s budget by 13 percent.
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Instead, in a 30-minute chat with Mr. Williams, a Carson adviser and conservative media personality, and Mr. Harvey, the housing secretary stuck to broad platitudes about his commitment to alleviating poverty.
“My entire professional career centered around children and giving them another chance at life,” said Mr. Carson, who has no experience running a large federal bureaucracy. He added that when he looked out on the country, “I see so many children living in poverty and not having the right kinds of opportunities.”
Mr. Williams peppered Mr. Carson with questions about his plans for the department, while Mr. Harvey, who recently faced criticism for meeting with Mr. Trump during the transition, asked if Mr. Carson planned to “really put some real help” into struggling neighborhoods.
There was no mention of Mr. Trump’s proposal to cut his department’s budget by $6.2 billion and eliminate several programs aimed at providing and maintaining affordable housing for low-income Americans. Instead, Mr. Carson talked vaguely about removing blight across the country, focusing on the development of children and encouraging wealthy Americans to help low-income communities.
Mr. Carson also said that he wanted the private sector to get involved in issues like rethinking how abandoned buildings around the country are used.
“We are all in the same boat, and if part of the boat sinks, eventually, the rest of it goes down, too,” Mr. Carson said. “When the Titanic started going down, you could be in the most luxurious suite, but you are still going down. So, you need to recognize that there is a problem here, and you need to work on it, too.”
Mr. Harvey hit on what he called a novel approach to raising the issue of poverty, saying it would be best to call people “capital” to make the point that they are valuable. “I like calling people capital, because you know what? It makes people who are capitalists pay attention a little bit better,” he said. “If I looked at everybody as a stack of money, I could love them so easy.”
Mr. Carson responded, “Be careful because someone will have something to say about that.”
The interview, conducted on March 13 at the housing department’s headquarters in Washington, was scheduled to air this weekend on Mr. Armstrong’s nationally syndicated program, “The Right Side.”
It remains unclear how Mr. Carson, who aside from a failed run for president has no background in government, will change policies at the department or foster cooperation between rich and poor in the nation’s economically divided cities. He has denounced President Barack Obama’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, adopted in 2015, which was intended to end decades-old segregation by offering recipients of federal housing grants more data and encouragement to build affordable housing in poor, segregated neighborhoods.