WASHINGTON President Barack Obama Monday will nominate Mayor Anthony Foxx to be secretary of transportation, a White House official said Sunday on the condition of anonymity.
The nomination of Foxx, whose city hosted last years Democratic National Convention, would make him the only African-American selected for a Cabinet opening in Obamas second term.
As mayor of what it called one of Americas most vibrant cities, the White House said Foxx has the firsthand knowledge needed to create jobs and compete in a global economy. The White House praised Foxxs ability to integrate local, state and federal resources to meet transportation challenges.
Federal officials cited his efforts to bring a streetcar line through the center of the city, expand Charlotte Douglas International Airport and extend the citys light-rail system north to UNC Charlotte.
On two of those fronts, however, Foxx faces serious challenges to his leadership.
The mayor is fighting an effort to shift control of Charlotte Douglas from the city to an independent authority a move Foxx has vocally opposed. Local business leaders and some legislators have said the city is meddling in airport affairs, a charge Foxx denies.
The streetcar project, which Foxx is launching with a $25 million federal grant, is in limbo. The mayor has been unable to convince City Council members to approve expanding the 1.5-mile line under construction. Also the streetcar has been the cause of a nearly yearlong fight that has delayed passage of the almost $1 billion capital budget.
Foxx, who has called Obama a friend, was elected mayor in 2009. He was re-elected in November 2011 with nearly 70 percent of the vote. He also is staff attorney for Charlotte hybrid bus maker DesignLine.
After a year on the national stage and calls to run for governor, Foxx who turns 42 Tuesday announced that he would leave office at the end of the year to spend more time with his family.
I never intended to be mayor for life, he told the Charlotte Observer.
Foxx could not be reached for comment Sunday. Its unclear whether he would resign before his Senate confirmation hearing or wait until he is confirmed.
The 11-member City Council will choose a replacement to fill the remaining months of Foxxs term, which ends in December.
A push for diversity
Obama has been under pressure to add more diversity to his Cabinet. Attorney General Eric Holder is now the only African-American to lead a Cabinet department.
The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus criticized Obama for the lack of minority candidates in a terse letter last month.
The people you have chosen to appoint in this new term have hardly been reflective of this countrys diversity, Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, wrote.
Joshua Schank, president of the Washington D.C.-based Eno Center for Transportation, said that presidents since 1992 have used the Secretary of Transportation job to check a box.
The administration has seen it as a need to be filled, be it a minority cabinet member, a female, or someone from the opposite party. Any transportation expertise is usually secondary.
If confirmed, Foxx would replace Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican who announced in January that he would leave the job once a successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
It would also make Foxx the 14th in line to be president if something happens to the president, the vice president and the others ahead of him.
Hearings could start in May
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who studies federal nominations, said he didnt expect Foxx to have a difficult nomination process. As a mayor, Tobias said, Foxx has less baggage than he would as a Congressman, for example.
Sometimes its better not to be in the Washington morass, Tobias said. He has a different perspective. He has the perspective as a mayor from a progressive state. And thats valuable.
He said Foxx will probably be questioned about his lack of direct transportation experience. But Tobias noted Foxx has relevant experience leading a city that is a major transportation hub that includes one of the countrys busiest airports and the junction of two interstate highways.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee could host hearings on Foxxs nomination as early as late May or June, Tobias estimated. The full Senate will have to confirm him. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairs the committee, which has only one member from the Carolinas Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
If confirmed, Foxx could be on the job by July 4, Tobias said
While Foxx doesnt have an extensive transportation background, he has some Washington experience. In addition to his work on the national convention and city-related lobbying visits, the Davidson College graduate served on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee from 1999 to 2001. Prior to that, he worked for two years in the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department.
The transportation secretary leads a staff of almost 60,000 people across the country.
Foxx is interested in how transit can shape urban development, and he shares the Obama administrations support for high-speed rail and creating walkable cities with development clustered around transit stops.
He has overseen the start of construction of a new intermodal rail yard by Norfolk-Southern at Charlotte Douglas. The intermodal yard is designed to transfer cargo from rail to truck and take advantage of new, large cargo ships expected on the east coast when the Panama Canal is widened.
The mayor doesnt have much experience in building highways, a major part of the Department of Transportations budget.
Two presidents tapped mayors directly to become transportation secretary: Bill Clinton appointed Federico Pena, who had been mayor of Denver. Jimmy Carter nominated Neil Goldschmidt, who was mayor of Portland, Ore.
Other secretaries have entered the job with little or no transportation background.
Charlotte Observer staff writer Steve Harrison contributed.
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