President Obama announces Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx, left, as his nominee for Secretary of Transportation during an April 29 news conference at the White House. (Win McNamee /Getty Images)
President Obama announced Monday his choice of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to be his next Transportation secretary, heralding the young mayor for revitalizing his city with critical investments in its transportation infrastructure.
Foxx, 41, raised his national profile after the Queen City hosted last year’s Democratic National Convention.
Obama noted that during Foxx’s time as mayor, ground was broken on the Charlotte Streetcar Project, a third parallel runway at Charlotte-Douglass International Airport was opened, and he worked to extend the LYNX light rail system to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“When Anthony became mayor in 2009, Charlotte like the rest of the country was going through a bruising economic crisis,” Obama said. “But the city managed to turn things around … and if you ask Anthony how that happened, he’ll tell you one of the reason is that Charlotte made one of the largest investments in transportation in the city’s history.”
In brief remarks at the White House on Monday afternoon, Foxx, who is a Democrat, struck a bipartisan tone.
“There is no such thing a Democratic or Republican road, bridge, port, airfield or rail system,” Foxx said. “We must work together, across party lines, to enhance this nation’s infrastructure.”
The choice of Foxx, who is Charlotte’s youngest elected mayor and the second black mayor in the city’s history, also could help Obama dull criticism over the racial diversity of his Cabinet.
Earlier this month, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., criticized Obama for failing to name any African Americans among his early picks for his second-term Cabinet.
“Four months into his second term, we look to the president’s Cabinet appointments only to find that he has once again overlooked his most loyal constituency,” Thompson said while delivering the Congressional Black Caucus’ weekly address.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, also complained in a letter to Obama last month that his recent Cabinet nominees “have hardly been reflective of this country’s diversity.”
Obama was even ribbed by the comedian Conan O’Brien at Saturday’s White House Correspondents Association’s annual dinner in Washington over the lack of diversity in his Cabinet.
“Mr. President, your hair is so white it could be a member of your Cabinet,” O’Brien said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Foxx would become the second black in Obama’s second-term Cabinet, joining Attorney General Eric Holder, a first-term holdover. Foxx would replace Ray LaHood, who announced earlier this year that he was stepping down as Transportation secretary once his replacement cleared the Senate.
The president has boasted of the diversity in his White House and urged critics not to judge the makeup of his Cabinet until he completed his picks. He still needs to nominate a Commerce secretary and U.S. trade representative.
Ahead of Obama’s announcement Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the president is “pleased with the individuals who have agreed to accept his nominations for positions in the Cabinet.”
“What you will see is a Cabinet that reflects the diversity of the country and the quality of people who are willing to serve their country in these important positions,” Carney said.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who studies federal nominations, said Republicans will question Foxx’s short résumé on transportation issues, but predicted he’ll sail through confirmation hearings. Foxx, who was first elected Charlotte’s mayor in 2009, is a lawyer by training. He’s served on staff of the House Judiciary Committee and in the civil rights division of the Justice Department.
“The Republicans on this kind of appointment as opposed to something like secretary of Defense are more likely to defer to the president,” Tobias said.
If confirmed, Foxx will immediately face a budget fight and several contentious rules for consumer protection and safety.
A week of furloughs at the Federal Aviation Administration, which delayed thousands of flights, prompted Congress to allow the agency to shift around funding amid spending cuts to end the furloughs.
But the spending battle remains for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 because the Obama administration wants to close tax loopholes while trimming spending, but congressional Republicans oppose new revenues.
The Transportation Department is also developing a consumer-protection rule dealing with how airlines market services such as baggage fees and seat assignments.
Consumer groups and travel agents are urging the department to force airlines to provide the prices for those services to the companies that allow comparisons at sites like Travelocity and Orbitz. But airlines are opposed to being forced to provide the information because comparison sites charge billions of dollars collectively each year.
Two safety rules are also pending at the FAA, in reaction to the last fatal crash of a commercial airliner in February 2009. One rule expected in August proposes to require as many training hours for co-pilots as pilots, with exceptions for military pilots and those graduating from four-year colleges. The other rule, expected in October, will require more simulator training about how to recover from a stall.
“Without question, our nation faces a number of transportation challenges that will require strong leadership and effective communication with Congress to keep our nation moving,” said Sen. John Thune, the top Republican on the committee that will consider Foxx’s nomination.