WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama nominated Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx on Monday to be his next transportation secretary, choosing a rising star from his own party to follow a popular Republican skilled at working across the aisle.
Flanked by Foxx and outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in the White House’s East Room, Obama praised Foxx as one of the “most effective mayors that Charlotte’s ever seen.”
“The city has managed to turn things around,” the president said. “The economy is growing. There are more jobs, more opportunity. And if you ask Anthony how that happened, he’ll tell you that one of the reasons is that Charlotte made one of the largest investments in transportation in the city’s history.”
Obama touted Foxx’s leadership on a new streetcar project, expanding the city’s international airport and extending Charlotte’s light rail system. The president said Foxx had demonstrated how investments in infrastructure could create jobs and spur economic growth during tough times.
The pick was welcomed by industry leaders and praised by the nation’s mayors, as well as African-American leaders who’ve demanded the White House increase the Cabinet’s diversity. Foxx would be the first black Cabinet member appointed in Obama’s second term.
Coming from Charlotte, where he was elected mayor in 2009, Foxx doesn’t carry the baggage of a Washington insider and should have a smooth confirmation process. But in today’s politically charged environment, nothing is assured.
Foxx very likely will be questioned sharply about some of the day’s toughest issues, including one very much on Senate minds these days: airport delays and furloughs by the Federal Aviation Administration because of forced budget cuts.
Republicans on Monday were circumspect about Foxx, saying privately that they knew little about him. Unless he appears unqualified or something controversial erupts from his past, he’s likely to win confirmation.
He follows one of Washington’s toughest acts, LaHood. Not only was LaHood a highly regarded Republican congressman, he’s also a world-class schmoozer and knows how to navigate Congress as few others do.
LaHood told Foxx on Monday that, if confirmed by the Senate, the mayor would inherit some of the smartest people at the Department of Transportation. And he advocated that quality transportation leads to better jobs and opportunities for families.
“Mayor Foxx gets that,” LaHood said. “I’m confident he’ll do a terrific job.”
Foxx, who turns 42 on Tuesday, said he was “humbled and honored” by the nomination. He was joined by his wife, Samara, and their two children, Hillary and Zachary, as well as his mother and grandmother. Obama noted that Foxx’s grandmother told him she’d worked in the White House during the Truman administration.
Foxx has some Washington experience, having served on the staff of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee from 1999 to 2001. Before that, he worked for two years in the civil rights division of the Justice Department.
As Charlotte’s mayor, he’s frequently visited the White House and, along with other mayors, met with Obama on economic issues. A rising star in Democratic circles, Foxx once was chatted up as a possible contender for the North Carolina governor’s mansion, and last summer he hosted the successful Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.