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Kevin Johnson welcomes GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson

Mayor Kevin Johnson following a Q/A with retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson at the latest meeting of his African-American empowerment organization at the Guild Theater on June 15, 2015.
Mayor Kevin Johnson following a Q/A with retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson at the latest meeting of his African-American empowerment organization at the Guild Theater on June 15, 2015. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Republican Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon and unconventional presidential candidate, has no doubt received some glowing receptions during his career.

But it’s unlikely he expected such a warm welcome from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a Democrat who once borrowed the Chicago Bulls theme music to introduce President Barack Obama at the White House.

Johnson relied on fewer theatrics Monday in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood, where he talked up the long-shot GOP contender in front of a large picture of his latest book, “One Nation.”

Johnson commented on Carson’s “impressive” education (Yale, and medical school at the University of Michigan), and his Presidential Medal of Freedom. And he gently ribbed Carson, who used to favor an afro hairstyle, for his more recently coiffed look.

“Look how smooth he looks now,” Johnson said to laughter, comparing Carson to the actor who played Lando Calrissian in “Star Wars.”

“Man, he’s smooth. He got a little Billy Dee (Williams) in him,” he added to more laughter, including from Carson.

Admired by evangelicals, Carson came onto the national stage with a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. Speaking then next to a poker-faced Obama, he focused on the dangers of political correctness and warned about America going the way of the Roman Empire, drawing praise from conservative commentators.

Still, Johnson’s lauding went beyond his looks.

“Our goal should be the best that we can be. And when you strive for excellence, and you become excellent, nobody ever cares where you’re from or what you look like or the color of your skin,” Johnson told the crowd of about 325 people at his Indivizible African-American empowerment organization.

“And the person that to me best represented that was Dr. Ben Carson.”

For his performance, Carson, before getting down to signing books, reprised much of what he’s been saying on the campaign trail, notably his opposition to Obama’s health care overhaul.

Carson touched on his rags-to-riches tale in which he rose from a childhood of poverty to, by his mid-30s, the youngest-ever division head at Johns Hopkins University. Monday’s audience heard a little about his methods for separating conjoined twins.

Johnson wanted to know his favorite food (vegetarian chili), book (The Bible, Book of Proverbs), and movie (“True Lies”). But he wasn’t getting off that easy. The mayor also pressed him about his much-publicized remark about Obamacare being the worst thing since slavery.

“I think people felt the way you said that was not proper or deferential or with respect,” Johnson said.

“You probably noticed over the last few months that I am not nearly as inflammatory as I used to be,” Carson responded. “Because what I’ve discovered is that when you say certain things people actually can’t hear what you’re saying.”

Christopher Cadelago: (916) 326-5538, @ccadelago

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