CHARLOTTE, N.C.—President Barack Obama today nominated Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx as his new transportation secretary. If confirmed by the Senate, Foxx would replace outgoing Secretary Ray LaHood.
Foxx’s nomination is no surprise. The Democrat had already announced he would not run for a third term as mayor this year. Foxx was 38 when first elected Charlotte’s mayor in 2009, making him the youngest mayor in the city’s history. He won reelection in a landslide in 2011, making him a valuable campaigner for Obama in 2012, when North Carolina was in play. The Democrats held their national convention in Charlotte last year, and Foxx made several high-profile appearances with the president. Though Mitt Romney ultimately won North Carolina, Foxx enhanced his reputation with national Democratic leaders in the process.
His critics say Foxx’s transportation experience is thin. He has worked with the Department of Transportation (DOT) on several local and regional projects that required federal involvement, including an expansion of the city’s multi-billion-dollar LYNX light-rail system, and an intermodal air/train/truck terminal at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, which is one of the largest in the nation.
Foxx also has had some miscues. He’s been a champion of the Charlotte Streetcar Project, but has had trouble generating public support for the electric-tram service. And during his tenure as mayor he’s been involved in what has been so far a losing fight with the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature to wrestle control of the airport authority from the city in favor of a regional commission.
But Foxx will likely not face much opposition for the Obama Cabinet post. In many ways, he has blue-chip credentials. He graduated from the elite Davidson College in North Carolina and went to law school at New York University. He clerked for a federal judge and served stints in Washington with the Department of Justice and with the House Judiciary Committee. Prior to becoming mayor, Foxx served two terms on the Charlotte City Council. Another asset: Foxx is Obama’s first black nominee among the new Cabinet members appointed for his second term. The president faced criticism early in his second term for a lack of diversity among his nominees.
If confirmed by the Senate, Foxx would take over a department with an annual budget exceeding $70 billion and nearly 60,000 employees. The DOT has been spending federal dollars lately on economic stimulus projects, including road and airport runway construction. But budget cuts are putting the squeeze on the department Foxx hopes to leads. A case in point: The DOT oversees the Federal Aviation Administration, which has come under fire lately for furloughing air traffic controllers and then blaming the move on the sequester. The furloughs caused delays at many airports, frustrating travelers. Congress reached a deal last week to provide the Transportation Department budget flexibility needed to end the furloughs.