By Doina Chiacu and Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a rival-turned-supporter of Donald Trump, overcame his stated qualms about a lack of government experience on Monday to accept the president-elect's nomination to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.Carson, a popular writer and speaker in conservative circles, has been a close adviser to Trump since dropping out of the 2016 Republican presidential primary contest.He is the first African-American picked for a Cabinet spot as Trump fills out his administration before his inauguration on Jan. 20. The position requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.Trump's Cabinet picks so far have been mostly white men, although he has also nominated two women, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Republican donor Betsy DeVos to be education secretary.Trump, who beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in last month's election, has filled 13 high-level administration posts, with the key position of U.S. secretary of state among jobs remaining to be filled.He and Carson discussed the HUD position before the Thanksgiving Day holiday late last month, although Carson - despite his presidential run - had indicated reluctance to take a post in the incoming administration because of his lack of federal government experience.Trump, a real estate magnate and former reality TV star who also has no government experience and has never held public office, expressed confidence Carson could do the job."Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities," he said in a statement.The transition team described Carson as a national leader who overcame a "troubled youth in the inner city of Detroit to become a renowned neurosurgeon."
Carson said he was honored to accept the post, saying he believes he can make a "significant contribution particularly by strengthening communities that are most in need."Other Trump picks have included retired Marine Corps General James Mattis as defense secretary, U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo as CIA director, Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general, retired General Michael Flynn as national security adviser, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as chief of staff and right-wing media executive Steve Bannon as chief White House strategist.EXPERIENCE, BUT NOT IN GOVERNMENT
Carson, a highly respected neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for 30 years, had also been considered for U.S. surgeon general and head of Health and Human Services Department.
His business manager, Armstrong Williams, said last month Carson had decided not serve in Trump's administration because "his life has not prepared him to be a Cabinet secretary." But Carson said after meeting with Trump he believed he could make a contribution.Trump, a mold-breaking presidential candidate, has made some unorthodox choices for his administration, including Haley, who has little foreign policy experience, and Bannon, whose eclectic background in banking and media does not include any government work.Like many of the initial field of 17 Republican presidential hopefuls who vied for the party's 2016 White House nomination, Carson was a frequent Trump target during the campaign. But he became one of his most high-profile African-American supporters after Trump secured the nomination.At HUD, Carson would lead an agency whose mission has been to help middle- and low-income people find homes. It also runs a program aimed at replacing distressed public housing with mixed-income neighborhoods.The department also oversees mortgage lending and other housing programs.
In a July 2015 opinion piece for the Washington Times, Carson gave some indication of his views on housing policy, criticizing actions by the administration of outgoing Democratic President Barack Obama to reduce racial segregation as having the potential to "make matters worse."His lack of political experience and low-key style made Carson made an unconventional presidential candidate who raised eyebrows for inaccurate statements during the campaign, including that the ancient Egyptian pyramids were built to store grain, not to entomb the country's leaders. He had a brief surge that took him to the top of the Republican presidential polls in late 2015 but Trump went after him, questioning his mental stability because of childhood incidents in which Carson said he attacked his mother with a hammer and tried to stab another boy.Carson's campaign sputtered after that and he dropped out of the race in March.One of the highlights of Carson's medical career was being the lead neurosurgeon in a 70-member team that separated conjoined twins who shared a blood vessel at the back of their brains in 1987. He retired as a surgeon in 2013.Born in Detroit on Sept. 18, 1951, Carson was raised primarily by a single mother who worked several jobs at a time and sometimes took government assistance while pushing her two sons to read and study.He graduated from Yale University and received his medical degree from the University of Michigan. (Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by W Simon and Frances Kerry)
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Updated Date: Dec 05, 2016 22:46:40 IST