Former pediatric neurosurgeon andnow Secretary of Urban and Housing Development (HUD) Ben Carson spoke to reporters on Wednesday after touring Baltimore, saying the city where he practiced for years has a “special place in my heart,” but the things harming residents, especially children, cannot be ignored.
“As a pediatric neurosurgeon, you know I spent a lot of time trying to give the children here in Baltimore a second chance at life, operating for hours and hours, all night sometimes,” said Carson, who was the director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. “Most of the times being successful.”
But when it came to sending the children home, Carson said he struggled:
Days later being in a dilemma about sending those kids back into some of the neighborhoods that I knew they came from in east Baltimore and west Baltimore where there were rats, and roaches, and mice, and ticks; where there was just unabated lead problems that were having devastating effects on the mental development of young people; where there was mold.
“We had large numbers of people with asthma because of the mold and some of the environmental issues,” Carson said. “So, you know that – that was a problem for me and it stayed on my mind a lot.”
“I have a special place in my heart for Baltimore and for the people of Baltimore,” Carson said. “There are a lot of excellent, wonderful people here.” He went on:
And there are a lot of good places here in Baltimore as well, but there are problems and we can’t sweep them under the rug. You know, it’s sort of like if you have a patient who has cancer and you can dress them up and put a nice suit on them and you can try to ignore it, but that cancer is going to have a devastating effect.
“You have to be willing to address that issue if you are ever going to solve it,” Carson said.
Carson also spoke about what President Donald Trump has done to try to help with what HUD calls, “distressed communities” — an issue the secretary said he discussed with Trump before endorsing him in 2016.
“Before I endorsed him when I dropped out of the race, we sat down and had a prolonged talk about the poor people of our country and what were we going to do about it. And you’ve seen some of the results, opportunity zones,” Carson said.
Carson is referring to the program created through Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:
Opportunity Zones are census tracts that were determined by state executives to be the most in need of private investment. The Opportunity Zone designation encourages investment by granting investors extensive federal tax advantages for using their capital to finance new projects and enterprises located within the Opportunity Zones.
You know there are 149 [opportunity zones] here in the state of Maryland. We’re in an opportunity zone right now — places that have been encouraged — have set up programs, so that people can take unrealized capital gains and invest them into opportunity zones over the long term.
And of course if people are investing their money over the long term, they aren’t just going to walk away and be uninterested in what happens. They want a return on their investment, so they’ll continue to be interested in those areas. And we’re already seeing tremendous progress all over the country. And that is going to occur here in Baltimore, too.”
Carson’s visit comes after Trump tweeted about how Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) complained about conditions people were living in at the U.S. border with Mexico where thousands of migrants have poured into the United States while some of his own constituents were living in dangerous conditions, including areas in Baltimore with rat infestations and high crime.
Carson invited Cummings to join him on the tour, but the anti-Trump Democrat declined.
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