BY PAMELA WOOD AND LILLIAN REED
THE BALTIMORE SUN/TNS
BALTIMORE — U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson came to Baltimore Wednesday to tout the Trump administration’s efforts to improve urban areas. But Carson ran into trouble when his entourage was kicked off the Southwest Baltimore property where they planned to hold a press conference.
HUD officials hoped to stage their event on a vacant lot, but never asked permission from Morning Star Baptist Church of Christ, which owns the lot and hopes to build a parking lot there, said church member Gregory Evans. Evans asked the HUD group to move off the property.
“It’s nothing personal,” Evans said from the church lobby, where he was reading the newspaper and checking in children to a vacation Bible school camp. “I didn’t know it was Secretary Carson. I just know there were a bunch of people over there that were taking over our site. And we said, ‘Why are they here? They’ve not even asked for permission to be here.”
CRITICISM FROM CARSON
Evans said the church has had persistent troubles with the vacant lot, with construction crews for other projects leaving materials on the site.
After Evans confronted HUD officials, they scrambled to move the press conference to an adjacent alley.
Carson was not pleased. He suggested the church was an example of people refusing to work together to solve Baltimore’s problems.
“We just have all this animosity all the time,” Carson told reporters during his press conference. “For instance, you guys know, you were set up on this property and right here is this church that said: ‘Get off our property.’ You know, a church? When we’re talking about helping the people. I mean, this is the level to which we have sunken as a society.”
When pressed to clarify his comments about the church, Carson responded: “What I’m saying is, you know, we have a society in which people, instead of trying to be helpful think only about themselves. That is a problem.”
PASTOR TOUTS CHURCH’S AID
Evans said his church works to serve the community, distributing clothes and food, offering addiction counseling and providing youth programs. He said HUD has done little to help the neighborhood under the Trump administration.
HUD officials pointed to the nearby Hollins House apartment building, that was renovated through a federal program. But Evans said that renovation was complete before Trump took office.
Carson’s visit comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s controversial tweets about Baltimore.
Carson spent decades as a famed pediatric neurosurgeon at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital before turning to politics, running for president and eventually landing in Trump’s cabinet as housing secretary.
Trump began tweeting Saturday about U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings’ 7th District, which includes portions of Baltimore that Trump called “disgusting, rat and rodent-infested.”
OPPORTUNITY ZONES EVENT
According to Cummings’ office, the congressman was invited to the press conference on Tuesday night but he could not attend because of schedule conflicts.
The event was planned for Carson to tout Opportunity Zones, which are federally-designated zones eligible for incentives for investment. Maryland has 149 Opportunity Zones, many of them in Baltimore City. The neighborhood where Carson spoke is in an Opportunity Zone, HUD officials said.
In his remarks, Carson also built on Trump’s comments from Tuesday in which the president said “billions and billions” of federal money has been “stolen” or “wasted” in Baltimore. Trump and the White House have not offered any proof of extensive misspending or misappropriation of federal funds, and city officials have disputed the claim.
“Perhaps we need to look at how that money was utilized,” Carson said of federal aid that’s been given to Cummings’ district, which includes not only much of Baltimore City, but also many suburban neighborhoods.
“The federal government has invested a lot of money in Baltimore and will continue to do so,” Carson said. “But as you can see from looking around, there are problems here in Baltimore. There are good things in Baltimore, there are bad things in Baltimore.”
CARSON DEFENDS TRUMP
Carson also appeared Monday on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss Trump’s comments. In the segment, he discussed his time in Baltimore and spoke of how he treated children who sometimes lived in homes in East Baltimore that were infested with rats and other types of vermin.
“Now fortunately God is giving me the opportunity to do something about it” he said in the segment. “That’s one of the reasons I’m delighted to be in this administration.”
Carson also told the Fox host that he spoke with Trump Monday and asked the president whether he’d be willing to work with Cummings to bring some relief to the people of Baltimore.
“He said he would be happy to,” Carson said.
Carson also defended the president against claims of racism in his comments about the city.
“I think what President Trump was trying to say was rather than spending your time talking about our brave border agents and investigating endlessly things that you can’t find anything on, why not spend your time working more for these people who are suffering,” Carson said in the segment.