Trump’s Housing Secretary Ben Carson Says President Is Not a Racist

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(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s housing secretary, Ben Carson, said the president is not a racist at an event on Friday where Trump tried to court black voters.

“People say that he is a racist,” Carson said at the event in Charlotte, North Carolina, intended to promote a Trump administration program to encourage development in low-income areas. “He is not a racist.”

Trump is seeking to lure just enough black voters from the Democratic Party in November to secure his re-election. His administration has said its “Opportunity Zones” investment program, created by Trump’s 2017 tax law, will benefit African Americans living in low-income neighborhoods. Trump also frequently promotes the prison-sentencing overhaul he signed in 2018 as well as low black unemployment during his presidency.

The president famously asked black voters in his 2016 campaign, “What the hell do you have to lose?” His campaign has taken a more refined approach in 2020, establishing a “Black Voices for Trump” offshoot to try to organize black support for the president.

But most black voters consider Trump to be racist and his support among them does not appear to have changed appreciably since 2016, according to a January poll by the Washington Post and Ipsos.

Trump recounted his 2016 line for black voters on Friday and told a mostly white audience in Charlotte that they had voted with Democrats “for over 100 years” and “they treat you badly.”

“They come around and they work real hard. They want your vote,” Trump said. “And then the day after the election they’re gone -- that’s the Democrats.”

‘Park the Cars’

Carson, who is black, is one of the few minorities in Trump’s cabinet. In introductory remarks, he called the president “a friend” and offered assurances that Trump isn’t racist.

“He’s a man who is deeply driven by a sense of kindness and compassion -- you know, talking to people who drive the cars and park the cars at Mar-a-Lago,” Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, Florida. “They love him. The people who wash the dishes -- because he’s kind and compassionate. When he bought Mar-a-Lago, he was the one who fought for Jews and blacks to be included in the clubs that were trying to exclude them.”

Carson said that Trump is “guilty of creating a dynamic economy that’s working for everybody” and “guilty” of creating “trade agreements that level the playing field.”

Carson’s agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, administers the Opportunity Zones program, which allows investors large tax breaks if they put money into tracts of land states have designated as low-income.

Once heralded as a novel way to help distressed parts of the U.S., critics of the program have said opportunity zones are a government boondoggle for wealthy investors. The perks have been used to juice potential investment returns in luxury developments from Florida to Oregon.

Banks, private equity firms, insurance companies and wealthy individuals are rushing to take advantage. Critics have raised questions about whether the tax breaks will spur development in places that really need it or just stimulate growth in communities that were destined to see investment anyway.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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