After an off-hand conversation at Rotary Club last week, Charlotte educator Tony Zeiss spent Wednesday in Washington pushing his case to lead the U.S. Department of Education in a Donald Trump administration.
Politico reported that Zeiss, outgoing president of Central Piedmont Community College, was among a handful of people who may be under consideration for the post.
“It’s a long-shot at best, but it’s intriguing,” Zeiss said from Washington. “You just never know. I would very much like to fix some flaws in the Department of Education.”
Zeiss, 70, met with Republican U.S. Reps. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte and Richard Hudson of Concord. He was scheduled to meet with GOP Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis.
“Tony Zeiss is an outstanding educator and leader, and today he shared with me a tremendous vision for the proper role of the federal government in education,” Pittenger said. “Washington would certainly benefit from his transformational leadership, and I encouraged him to pursue opportunities.”
Zeiss, an unaffiliated voter, said he cast his ballot for Trump. He described his politics in a letter to the Trump transition team.
“Although a political conservative, my profession has required me to be a registered independent throughout my career,” he wrote, “and I have a proven record for working successfully with both political parties to improve education.”
Zeiss’ improbable road to Washington began on Election Day at the Charlotte Rotary Club when businessman John Paul Galles approached him.
“I went over to him and said, ‘You’d make a great secretary of education for President Trump’,” Galles recalled.
“What’s so good about Tony is he’s exactly what Trump wants – he’s an outsider. It just seemed like a natural … What he’s done at CPCC is nothing less than miraculous.”
Zeiss has headed the 70,000-student school since 1992 and presided over major changes. Under his tenure, CPCC grew from one campus to six and saw its budget grow from $46.7 million to $200 million. He became a nationally recognized leader in workforce development.
Last weekend Galles, publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz magazine, and retired Judge Chase Saunders met with Zeiss and assembled a 41-page packet of resume materials to bolster his candidacy. On the cover are three words in outsize type: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
After nearly a quarter-century at CPCC, Zeiss announced his retirement in February. In September the school named Kandi Deitemeyer, president of College of The Albemarle in Elizabeth City, to succeed him.
For Zeiss, the last week has been a whirlwind.
“I’ll tell you, I had no idea I was so popular,” he said. “Or else they just wanted to get me out of Charlotte.”