WASHINGTON -- Anthony Foxx appears to have a clear path to confirmation as U.S. transportation secretary next week, as virtually all of his 16 predecessors have.
Yet while most of them were Washington insiders familiar to the senators who vetted them, Foxx, a second-term Democratic mayor of Charlotte, N.C., is relatively unknown in the capital, in spite of his prominent role last year at the Democratic National Convention, which his city hosted.
That makes the traditional Capitol Hill meet-and-greet process for cabinet nominees even more important.
Hes got to introduce himself, said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University and a former Senate staffer. Hes got to make a Washington debut.
For Foxx, learning the ways of the capital starts with the confirmation process. Before the full Senate votes on his nomination, he must be confirmed by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. His hearing is Wednesday, which puts him on a tight schedule to meet with the panels 13 Democrats and 11 Republicans nearly a quarter of the Senate.
Thats the constituency that counts the most to him right now, said Andrew Card, transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush, and later chief of staff for President George W. Bush.
As is customary, Foxx will have help from his home state. North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, met with Foxx on Thursday, and said shell help introduce him at his confirmation hearing.
I am positive he will make an excellent secretary of transportation, she said.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., will also accompany Foxx to the hearing.
So far, the senators and transportation experts who have gotten to know Foxx see someone who, at age 42, brings new energy and ideas to a job that oversees the nations airports, highways, railroads and transit systems.
Its nice to have someone with enthusiasm and vinegar, said Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University.
Foxx developed a reputation for promoting mass transit in Charlotte. Since he became mayor in 2009, the city has started a streetcar project and a $1 billion expansion of its light rail system. Charlotte is also a major aviation hub, and he oversaw the completion of a third runway at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat and member of the commerce panel, said Foxxs experience as a mayor is an asset because he understands what its like to work with the department hes been asked to lead.
This is the kind of addition you want in the administration, said Begich, himself a former mayor of Anchorage. Someone whos actually run something. Someone whos had to deal with the bureaucracy.
The Transportation Department was created in 1966 and most of the nominees to head it were confirmed unanimously. The job frequently goes to political allies, and Foxx has close ties to President Barack Obama. The appointment also quelled criticism that Obamas second-term cabinet lacked diversity. Foxx was Charlottes second African American mayor and would be the third black DOT secretary.
After spending an hour with him this week, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who leads the Commerce committee, said it would be an easy confirmation.