Nick Tennyson was named state transportation secretary on Thursday. He replaced Tony Tata, who resigned suddenly last week.
Tennyson, 64, had served as Tata’s chief deputy secretary at the state Department of Transportation since 2013, and he took over as acting secretary after Tata stepped down.
Gov. Pat McCrory announced Tennyson’s promotion at the state Board of Transportation’s monthly meeting. He said he and Tennyson had been friends since they both served as mayors 20 years ago – Tennyson in Durham, McCrory in Charlotte. He said they will continue a push to sell the General Assembly on McCrory’s proposal for highway and infrastructure bonds.
“I felt I needed to make this decision quickly and concisely,” McCrory said. “We want to invest in transportation needs for the future as quickly as possible. ... And to have this talent that’s available to step right in, no training needed whatsoever, is something we have to take advantage of right now.”
Two of Tata’s high-level appointees have left DOT recently, including Rudy Lupton, who resigned late last week as DOT’s logistics director. Tennyson said Lupton had decided to take another job before Tata stepped down, and he said he did not expect to see other departures.
“We’ve got a great group of people in the NCDOT,” Tennyson told board members. “I know we can continue to do great things, and I’m looking forward to taking credit for all of them.”
Tata resigned abruptly last Tuesday, leaving DOT the same day. He cited the stresses of the job, the growing success of his side career as an author of military action thrillers, and the demands of his family. Tata also said he had not ruled out running for a seat in Congress.
A retired Army brigadier general, Tata served as Wake County school superintendent before McCrory hired him to run DOT in 2013. McCrory thanked Tata, who did not attend Thursday’s meeting.
“Without that leadership, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” McCrory said. “To have him help implement our vision was very, very beneficial for the state of North Carolina. I’m not going to get teary-eyed like I did yesterday with Secretary Vos.”
McCrory wiped tears from his eyes Wednesday when he announced the departure of Aldona Vos as health and human services secretary.
Tennyson had been considered a strong candidate to succeed Tata, but he was not the only person in the running. State Rep. Charles Jeter, a Mecklenburg County Republican, also had expressed interest in the job.
Ned Curran of Charlotte, the transportation board chairman, praised McCrory’s decision.
“Nick has a very engaging style,” Curran said. “He quickly conveys a knowledge of the subject matter and a willingness to listen, to be collaborative. But also a sense of urgency to get things done.”
Nicholas Jon Tennyson was mayor of Durham from 1997 to 2001 when he and McCrory co-founded a group of mayors, the Metropolitan Coalition, to advocate for the interests of North Carolina cities.
A 1972 Duke University graduate, Tennyson was a Naval officer before beginning a career as a home builder and developer in Durham. In the late 1980s, he transitioned to work with trade associations, including the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce. Prior to joining NCDOT in 2013, he was executive vice-president for the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange and Chatham Counties.
Tennyson has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Duke and master’s in human resources management from Pepperdine University in California.
Gov. Pat McCrory restocked his Cabinet this week, replacing two departing department secretaries with Rick Brajer at Health and Human Services on Wednesday and Nick Tennyson at Transportation on Thursday.
“Even with losing some great talent, I’m proud to say we still have the best Cabinet in the United States of America,” McCrory said Thursday. “I always said I would surround myself with smart people as governor.”
Here’s the current lineup of McCrory’s department secretaries:
Administration: Bill Daughtridge
Commerce: John Skvarla
Revenue: Lyons Gray (Nomination to Utilities Commission pending)
Cultural Resources: Susan Kluttz
Public Safety: Frank Perry
Environment and Natural Resources: Donald Van Der Vaart
Transportation: Nick Tennyson
Health and Human Services: Rick Brajer