By: Alex Goldmark
This post also appears on Transportation Nation.
President Barack Obama's choice as the next head of the U.S Department of Transportation is a young urban mayor with a short track record and a fondness for transit.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is serving his first term as Mayor of Charlotte. Our friends at WFAE Charlotte tell us he's simultaneously working for an eco-friendly bus manufacturer.
WFAE adds that Foxx has experience with public, green, and air transportation. But he has only served as mayor for four years. And the streetcar project has stalled of late. On top of that, he has no experience with national infrastructure planning. "He would be the first Secretary of Transportation since the Clinton administration not to serve in Congress or the executive branch before holding this Cabinet position," WFAE's Ben Bradford reports (Listen to WFAE's report here).
WFAE's Julie Rose called his transportation credentials, "slim," in a recent interview.
But President Obama thinks Foxx has just the right track record. At a press conference, Obama noted that the current Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood had little transportation experience when he took the job after serving as a Republican Congressman from Illinois.
Flanked by Foxx and LaHood, the president listed three accomplishments that helped Foxx earn the nomination: under Mayor Foxx, Obama said, Charlotte has broken ground on a new streetcar program, expanded the city's airport and invested in light rail.
Rose reported that Obama's choice seems to have been made on values: "Foxx and the President seem to see eye to eye on transportation issues – the importance of transit, of faster rail travel, creating walkable cities and using transit as a way to shape urban development."
WFAE's Bradford points out that Foxx "also works for the hybrid bus company DesignLine, because being mayor is a part-time job," lending him some credibility on environmental sustainability and potentially, business development.
The messaging from Foxx and the White House is tightly worded to convey the idea of infrastructure investment as a means to job creation. Foxx's short record in Charlotte was touted as economic development through transportation funding.
A White House statement said, “As mayor of one of America’s most vibrant cities, Anthony Foxx knows first hand that investing in world-class infrastructure is vital to creating good jobs and ensuring American businesses can grow and compete in the global economy."
Foxx said, "I know well the opportunities and the challenges of maintaining and improving infrastructure and providing good transportation choices. And throughout my service in Charlotte I have worked to use infrastructure to put Charlotte, and therefore our country, on the path of job growth today and tomorrow."
His tenure has been short, but he has been firm on his support for public transportation. Foxx can take credit for securing federal funding for a light rail extension to UNC Charlotte and broke ground on a new streetcar that has been mired in opposition from the City Council, as well as a rail connection to the airport.
At the White House announcement President Obama also praised outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. "Ray may be the best Secretary of Transportation that the nation has ever had," the president said before listing off accomplishments from the previous five years, teasing LaHood about his poor golf chops, and offering an emotional embrace.
LaHood took his turn to sing praises, saying Obama should be proud for raising CAFE standards and starting high-speed rail in America. On his proposed replacement, LaHood said "I'm confident [Foxx] will do a terrific job," noting that Foxx's appointment is a cause for celebration by America's mayors because Foxx will understand the needs of cities.
Transit advocacy groups were quick to issue statements of support. "Mayor Anthony Foxx’s record shows that he is a champion of a balanced transportation system, in which public transportation plays a vital role. This transportation vision will make America economically competitive,"said American Public Transportation Association, Chair Flora Castillo.
Ed Rendell of Building America's Future said, "Foxx has first-hand knowledge of how to create jobs through smart investment in transportation."
Foxx had decided not to run for reelection as mayor of Charlotte, citing a desire to spend more time with his young family. He was the youngest ever Mayor of Charlotte when he was elected at 38, and as Politico reports, the first Democrat to elected to run the city in 22 years.
Listen to the full the announcement in the audio player below.