TRANSPORTATION: Obama to tap Charlotte Mayor Foxx for DOT top job

TRANSPORTATION: Obama to tap Charlotte Mayor Foxx for DOT top job (Monday, April 29, 2013)
Eugene Mulero, E&E reporter

Anthony Foxx, the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., will be tapped today to lead the Department of Transportation during President Obama's second term -- a premier post for an official relatively unknown on the national transportation scene.

White House officials confirmed the nomination of the 41-year-old mayor, three months after current Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he would step down. Foxx will be at the White House for a formal announcement about his nomination at 2:10 p.m. today.

A lawyer who was elected mayor in 2009, Foxx has expressed support for the administration's livable-cities concepts promoting transit projects and nonmotorized vehicles over gas-powered cars, as well as expanding high-speed passenger rail around major metropolitan regions.

Supporters credit Foxx for the city's bike-share program and for pushing for a streetcar project connecting parts of the city's downtown, as well as a third parallel runway at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Charlotte also plans to extend a light-rail system to the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, with the help of federal dollars (E&ENews PM, Oct. 16, 2012).

The administration praised Foxx last year after Charlotte successfully hosted the Democratic National Convention. After the convention, the U.S. Conference of Mayors appointed Foxx chairman of a task force aimed at attracting advanced manufacturing jobs to cities, a post that raised Foxx's national profile.
Transportation community reacts

Shannon Binns, director of the group Sustain Charlotte, said he is confident the mayor would be able to manage operations at DOT, an agency with jurisdiction over rail, transit systems, highways, aviation and waterways.

Foxx "doesn't go into situations with predetermined sets of facts and his mind made up. I think he's very open to data and information from other experts and making informed decisions," Binns said. "And I think he'll do that in his post. He'll seek the expertise of others and make very sound decisions that aren't based on politics but based on data and facts."

Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, said Foxx as DOT secretary could mean good things for bicyclists. "He clearly understands the importance of biking and walking to creating a vibrant and economically successful community where businesses want to locate; where people want to live, raise a family and retire; and where people have a real choice of transportation modes," Clarke said.

While several transportation experts said they were not familiar with Foxx or criticized his transportation background, Ross Capon, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said he gives Foxx "the benefit of the doubt."

"I mean, if you look strictly at the resume, you could say, 'If somebody is a congressman from central Illinois, does that qualify him to be secretary?' and obviously, we've been pleased with Secretary LaHood as secretary," Capon said.

Mitchell Moss, director of New York University's Rudin Center for Transportation, said Foxx's experience as mayor will serve him well. He "has been a terrific mayor, and he understands the importance of transportation at the local, state and national level," Moss said. "His experience as mayor of Charlotte ... will be a valuable asset as he works with communities and states across the nation."

Peter Lehner, executive director of the National Resources Defense Council, said Foxx's record as mayor suggests he would be an ally of the environmental movement.

"Foxx, who helped solve tough transportation challenges as mayor of Charlotte, will put that experience to work for our country, creating jobs and improving rail, bus and other public transportation," Lehner said. "That will benefit us all by reducing the nation's pollution, dependence on oil and traffic congestion in our communities and on our highways."

Foxx was a lawyer with the Hunton & Williams firm before his election to the Charlotte City Council in 2005. He stayed with the firm part-time until his 2009 mayoral victory. He earned a bachelor's degree from Davidson College, where he was student council president, and through a Root-Tilden scholarship earned a law degree at NYU.

On April 5, he announced he would not seek re-election.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is expected to hold a hearing on Foxx's nomination shortly after members return from a congressional recess next week. Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who pushed for fellow West Virginian Deborah Hersman for the DOT top job, will lead the panel's confirmation process. Earlier this year, Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, appeared eager to become the next secretary.

If confirmed by the full Senate, Foxx would succeed LaHood, a former Republican congressman and a charismatic Beltway insider who became popular among transit and bicycle advocates. LaHood's four-year tenure at DOT has been marked by an anti-texting campaign for drivers and his staunch backing of high-speed passenger rail.

Foxx also would become the second African-American in the president's Cabinet. Earlier this year, the Congressional Black Caucus and other African-American advocacy groups urged Obama to fill remaining Cabinet slots with African-American candidates (E&E Daily, March 21). Attorney General Eric Holder, who is African-American, intends to stay on through at least the first part of the second term.

"Through his work as mayor and as a city councilman in Charlotte, Anthony addressed the needs of an area that experienced tremendous growth within the past decade," said Congressional Black Caucus President Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio). "Anthony will surely be an asset to the president's Cabinet and to this nation, and I look forward to working with him to ensure the needs of our country's transportation system are adequately met."

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the top transportation authorizer in the House, is expected to be relatively supportive of Foxx's nomination. As chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure panel, Shuster intends to advance a water resources bill and a rail reauthorization this year, and a surface transportation bill next year -- all of which require major input from DOT.

Foxx would come to DOT at a time when several House lawmakers have resisted the president's infrastructure agenda and federal agencies are adjusting to across-the-board budget cuts required under the sequester that took effect March 1. These cuts led to the recent furloughing of air traffic controllers that caused airport delays.

Back in North Carolina, top officials there want Foxx to advocate for the Tar Heel State while he is in Washington.

"As we work toward our 25-year infrastructure plan and proposed strategic mobility formula to better connect North Carolinians to opportunities, we know strong collaboration is critical," said North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata.

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