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A Senate vote of 58–42 on Thursday morning officially confirmed Ben Carson ’73 as the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson is the second Yale alum to be approved for the cabinet in four days, after Wilbur Ross ’59 was confirmed as secretary of commerce Monday night.
A former neurosurgeon and a candidate in the 2016 presidential race, Carson directed pediatric surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital for 30 years before retiring from practicing medicine and entering the political sphere in 2013. He also served as an alumni fellow on the Yale Corporation from 1997 to 2003. Now, Carson will head the federal government’s charge to curb homelessness and improve economic mobility.
“We need to think about why people are disadvantaged and what we can do to change that disadvantage,” Carson said in a Dec. 8 speech in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall. “It’s not just a matter of housing and security. Instead of just telling people ‘you go to this place and we’ll pay for it,’ you give them some choice.”
Along with a united Republican vote, Carson received nods from seven non-Republican senators, six of whom were Democrats. Citing Carson’s commitment to reducing lead hazards, Sen. Sherrod Brown ’74, D-Ohio, defied party lines and cast his vote in affirmation. Brown said in a Wednesday press release that he would hold Carson accountable for the promises he made during personal exchanges and hearings.
During his confirmation hearing with the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Carson told senators that he, driven by values, would not “play favorites” while allocating money and that he believed in fair access to housing.
Mayor Toni Harp has expressed ambivalence toward President Donald Trump’s HUD pick. In a Dec. 5 radio interview with Paul Bass ’82 on “Mayor Monday,” Harp said the appointment was unfortunate given Carson’s lack of prior experience in directing housing and urban development projects. But Harp also struck an optimistic tone while discussing potential funding from a Carson-led HUD for subsidized housing at Church Street South’s replacement, a dilapidated apartment complex currently under demolition that will later be replaced with market-rate and low-income housing.
“The really good thing about Ben Carson is that he has been to New Haven,” Harp said. “That he spent his formative educational years here, that he was a Yale fellow on their board of trustees and that I think he cares about New Haven and understands what it takes to make New Haven work.”
Yale undergraduate students largely disapprove of Carson as HUD’s chief. A February survey conducted by the News showed that nearly 75 percent of the 743 student respondents viewed Carson “unfavorably” or “very unfavorably.”
Daniel Vernick ’19, the Legislative Captain for the National Popular Vote bill in CT legislature for the Yale College Democrats, said he was disappointed, but not surprised, with the results of Thursday’s confirmation vote. He said Carson is “utterly unqualified” for the position, and added that Carson even initially turned down a post in Trump’s cabinet claiming that he had no prior experience in governmental service.
Vernick said he believes the new HUD secretary will cut funding for critical programs that help people make ends meet, at the expense of providing more tax breaks for the wealthy and more funding to the military-industrial complex.
“Ben Carson’s complete lack of experience and backward vision are a blatant affront to the goals of HUD and to the American people,” Vernick said.
Carson is the ninth Republican to take the helm of the HUD.
Correction, March 3: An earlier version of this story misstated Daniel Vernick’s ’19 title with the Yale College Democrats. In fact, he is the Legislative Captain for the National Popular Vote bill in CT legislature, not the overseer of issues related to New Haven legislative.