NEW YORK – After reports that retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson had turned down President Donald Trump's offer to be the next secretary of Health and Human Services due to government inexperience in December, the doctor's longtime friend, the Rev. Dr. A.R. Bernard, shared a new twist to that story on Thursday.
Bernard, a political king maker in New York who leads the 40,000-member Christian Cultural Center, revealed that Carson opted to accept Trump's offer of secretary of Housing and Urban Development instead because he was concerned about his legacy.
"Dr. Ben Carson and I have been friends for about 10 years. We were doing town hall meetings to talk about what's happening in America morally and how that impacts things socially. So when I got the call from him about what was presented to him and why HUD, of course as a neurosurgeon you would think that Health and Human Services is the better fit," he explained at a Jewish-Evangelical Round Table meeting held at Calvary Baptist Church's Salisbury Hotel in New York City. Participants had gathered to discuss: "What are the New Spiritual Challenges and Opportunities of the Trump Era?"
"I flew down to Dr. Carson's home and we sat and we talked. And he made it clear. He said Health and Human Services made sense but he didn't want to spend the next four years, maybe even eight years battling Obamacare. He didn't want that to be his legacy," said the megachurch pastor.
"He wanted to do something and have the freedom to be creative. So when he explained that HUD made a lot of sense because with the right staffing to run that department, you're talking about $45 billion budget, 8,000 employees. With the right staffing, it would afford him time to be creative. So I saw Trump's campaign promise to address the inner city as a ... challenge and an opportunity," said Carson's longtime friend.
On Tuesday night's episode of "The Late Show," Colbert mocked President Trump's recent comments that Carson will find "the true meaning of HUD as its secretary."
"Yes, I believe Ben Carson will find the true meaning of HUD," Colbert said, "just like in the beloved children's story How the Grinch Stole Housing."
Bernard told attendees at Thursday's meeting, however, that Carson is seriously looking at revolutionizing the way America thinks about housing and inner cities and asked for his help in creating a path forward.
"Dr. Carson asked me if I would assist him. I was asked to put together a framework to begin the process. This has always been something that I have had a passion for, the inner city," said Bernard, who has a track record in development. The headquarters for his thriving church is located in Starrett City, America's largest federally subsidized housing complex.
He said since he began working on the framework for Carson he has come to realize that when people talk about the inner city, they are most times trapped in the past.
"What I realized as I began to work on the framework, things have changed in American society over the last 50, 60 years. In the 60s, it was clear what inner city meant, but 50, 60 years later that has changed. In the 60s, inner city was an American euphemism for low-income, high crime, impoverished, underserved communities. They were concentrated in urban areas and New York was a model of that reality. But 50, 60 years later, inner city does not hold the same definition," he said.
"It is no longer a geographic location. It's a condition. It's a condition that is urban. It's a condition that is suburban. It is a condition that is rural. And the demographics of the people who are impacted by the condition has changed."
Bernard said America and the Trump administration now need to be re-educated on what inner city means.
"When Senator Moynihan did his report in 1965, it was monumental in that it was the first, comprehensive sociological analysis of the problem that was predominantly experienced by [the] African American community in America.
"He understood the need for equal opportunity, he understood the need for equal access, but unfortunately it was hijacked by extreme liberals who then wanted to guarantee not just equal access, equal opportunity, but equal results," he said.
"And it became a reconfiguring of what Moynihan proposed and the implementation of affirmative action. There has not been this kind of analysis since then," the pastor noted. "So America has to be re-educated on what inner city means. Blacks only represent 27 percent of the inner city condition in America today. But how the condition is experienced is different in the black community than it is in the white community."
The reframing of the concept of inner city, said Bernard, will be challenging for many organizations and individuals who benefit from the outdated meaning of the concept.
"Present[ing] the facts, that will be quite challenging to some who prefer the facts to go back 50 years ago because those facts justify funding. And if those facts have changed, then that funding would be impacted," he told the group of Christian and Jewish leaders. "How do you present the new realities of inner city as a condition in American society today and get a buy in to do something about it? It's a big challenge. But for me, it was an opportunity to engage this administration in a specific way. And you've gotta work through the noise and find out, ok, what's gonna be our niche."
He encouraged them to work through the current "noise" around the Trump administration and noted that he believes Trump will do everything in his power to avoid a failed presidency.
"You have to work through the noise," Bernard stressed. "There was a lot of noise in the campaign last year and there is still a lot of noise and I understand that there are individuals who are spending tens of millions of dollars to undermine the new administration. They tried to do it before the inauguration. It still continues, I get that.
"This is not new to American history. You talk about Nixon, the issues of the war, you know I remember those protests that I was involved with at the time. So you look at the Trump administration, I have to ask the question, how [do] I engage an administration like this?" he continued.
"He is going to do everything he can not to fail because it's more than just winning an election. It's a presidency and the legacy left by that. He understands that winning the election is just a small part of it because he doesn't want to walk out of that office be it four years, be it eight years, and having done nothing that could be respected, admired and recognized."
Bernard further noted that many qualified people want to work with the Trump administration but they are afraid of being attacked by those who do not support Trump.
"His (Trump's) biggest problem is getting quality people, competent people to get involved. And it's not because quality people, competent people don't want to get involved, it is because of the attacks they must be prepared to endure at any identification with Trump or his administration," he said.