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For Anthony Foxx, a new road to travel

If you’re a Charlottean new or old, you should’ve felt at least a slight swell of pride to see Charlotte native, Davidson grad, City Council alum and Mayor Anthony Foxx nominated to be Secretary of Transportation for President Barack Obama’s second term.

Foxx stood behind Obama, and next to current transportation secretary Ray LaHood, at the White House on Monday. He watched the president call him an “impressive leader” and nodded as Obama told Charlotte’s story. He smiled, along with presumably everyone else, when Obama noted the mayor’s “two good looking kids” in attendance.

Yes, some might be tempted to add a smirk to those smiles. Foxx, as folks here know, is a transportation nominee without a hefty transportation resume. He has shepherded light rail and advocated for a more complete streetcar system in his seven years as mayor and council member, but he has little experience in roads and highways, which gobble up much of the Department of Transportation’s budget.

History shows, however, that a lack of significant transportation experience isn’t that unusual for transportation nominees. Since 1966, when the post was created, fewer than half of the country’s 16 transportation secretaries had expertise in the field. One, William Thaddeus Coleman Jr., was a lawyer and NAACP leader when Gerald Ford named him secretary in 1975.

Cabinet appointments, especially in presidents’ second terms, are sometimes made with supplementary criteria in mind. Foxx helps Obama answer criticism that his second-term cabinet is too white; the mayor’s nomination follows Obama’s pick for labor secretary – Thomas E. Perez, a first-generation Dominican-American and assistant U.S. attorney for civil rights.

That doesn’t mean that Foxx isn’t equipped for the job. In guiding light rail and advocating for the streetcar, the mayor has developed an expansive knowledge and appreciation for how diverse transportation networks can help cities and regions thrive. He has the perspective and respect of his fellow mayors and governors who struggle with politics and budgets to get transportation projects built.

He also would bring a thoughtful, measured approach to the job, and while his cautious nature didn’t always serve him best as mayor, it fits perfectly with a president who famously wants no drama from his administration.

If Foxx is confirmed as expected by the Senate, the City Council will name an interim mayor, who will serve until Charlotteans elect a new leader in November. Council members seem in no hurry to fill the spot, and we don’t blame them. A city budget battle is ahead and the battle for Charlotte’s airport is ongoing, and the council doesn’t particularly need a new voice introduced to either discussion. Plus, in a council/manager form of government like Charlotte’s, City Manager Ron Carlee already runs things day-to-day.

Monday, however, was about the current mayor. We wish Anthony Foxx well and know that at the very least, he’ll give Washington something it needs more of – a smart, honest and decent man.

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