“Politics has been my life since I was in middle school,” said Shermichael Singleton, the 26-year old conservative political consultant, who up until his ouster last week was likely the youngest “senior adviser” to ever serve the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Singleton’s life in Republican politics started early, but he didn’t get into it to be popular. “Republican just wasn’t a favorable thing,” said Singleton, who grew up in Dallas, Texas. “But I’ve stuck with the party ever since.”
He began to stand out in right-wing politics as a student at the nation’s only historic all-male black college, Morehouse College in Georgia, where he was among few Republicans. He co-founded the Morehouse College Republican chapter. From there, he joined Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign. He’d go on to take a position as an aide to the Republican Party’s nominee later that year, Mitt Romney.
It wasn’t until shortly before Dr. Ben Carson’s own announcement that he would run for president in May 2015 that Singleton met the current HUD secretary-in-waiting, who took Singleton under his wing for a campaign that ultimately fell short.
“We saw some data that indicated if we could make a dent in minority targeting and outreach it could be impactful, but clearly it didn’t work out,” said Singleton, who led many of Carson’s coalition-building initiatives.
The campaign was over, but Singleton’s work with Carson was just getting started. Carson appointed Singleton as his communications director, handling the increasing deluge of requests for the retired neurosurgeon, already a star to the activist evangelical right.
“He blew up,” Singleton said, recounting the many phone calls and emails. “He really, really blew up.”
And as Carson’s profile rose, culminating in then President-elect Donald Trump naming him to head up HUD, Singleton rose alongside him. “I helped him through the confirmation process,” Singleton said. Like Carson, Singleton was no housing expert, but it didn’t stop him. “I actually wrote the initial draft of the opening [hearing] statement… I guess you could say I was the brainchild behind it.”
Fast forward just one month after the inauguration, and Singleton finds himself booted from the Trump administration. Singleton was escorted out of HUD’s Washington headquarters by security on Wednesday after administration officials looked into one detail in his background.
“My party in particular has allowed itself to be taken over by someone who claims to be a Republican,” Singleton wrote in an editorial for The Hill in October, “but doesn’t represent any of our values, principles or traditions.”
The article, entitled “Aren’t we morally obliged to stand up to Trump?” would bring Singleton’s speedy entrée to the halls of power to a swifter than expected end.
Singleton sounds relatively unfazed by his ouster over the phone, in what could be the product of a prematurely acquired cynicism about politics or a simple necessity to maintain his relationship with Carson, who he will continue to advise in an unofficial role and with whom he claims to maintain close relations.
Or maybe, he’s just got everything figured out.
“There are good people there, man, the folks I met. That to me was the biggest disappointment,” Singleton said. “Being a political appointment I understood that I work at the pleasure of the president and the president’s team. Because of the article I wrote, they felt I was problematic. As someone who’s a political guy, I understand and I respect it.”
Despite the brevity of his stint, Singleton delved deep into the nitty gritty of HUD’s core programs and policies, and was tasked with finding ways the new administration could make the department more efficient. He recalled a meeting in which he asked a career official to help him set priorities for these reforms.
“I said ‘Mr. Program Director, I need your team to put together a list of items that are the most critical things that have to be improved,’ and I asked for those things to be listed,” Singleton said.
Singleton ultimately concluded that much of the work of HUD field officers under its Community Planning and Development division are overburdened by paperwork, lengthening the duration of site visits and driving up operational costs.
Aside from more mundane observations on how to streamline paper-pushing and housekeeping, he also came away with some impassioned ideas about public housing. Singleton praised the power of Section 8 vouchers to help move struggling families out of dire conditions and into affordable and stable homes. He also believes that not enough voucher holders currently use the opportunity to seek housing in better neighborhoods.
“Data indicate that if a mother with a young kid around seven or eight years old moves out of a bad environment into a more diverse environment with better resources, that kid now has an increased opportunity to not only get a better education than the parent, but also to earn more throughout their lifetime than the parent,” Singleton said.
When reminded that this concept was essentially the genesis of President Obama’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulations, which sought to identify stark racial and economic segregation patterns in order to incentivize more diverse planning, Singleton sought to make a distinction.
“It is [the same principle], but I think the way they went about it, I don’t think they did it in the right way. I think the intent was right but I think they should have done it differently,” Singleton said. (Carson once compared the regulations to “failed socialist experiments” in a spirited op-ed of his own in the Washington Times.)
“I want to focus on teaching people the benefit of moving out of their environment,” Singleton said, while acknowledging that a lack of housing available to voucher holders in higher-income areas is still an issue.
As for his sudden shove back into life outside the Washington bureaucracy, he’s keeping his options open. When asked if he’s thinking about other opportunities in housing or the real estate industry, he answered, “Definitely. I don’t know what that looks like [yet] but I definitely want to stay in that space.” As for direct offers, he said he’s been “contacted by a couple different entities” and is “sure others will come.”
But politics is his true love. “One day I want to run for office,” he said.
That love for politics is no more obvious than in how Singleton responded to the question of whether he supports President Trump. “If the president does well, the country does well. We all benefit from that. So that’s my position.”