On Monday, he made a professional U-turn when President Obama named him to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation.
North Carolina political observers have long viewed Foxx as a potential gubernatorial and Senate candidate; if confirmed to lead the DOT, he will he have a Cabinet-level job in his portfolio. Whether he will have a smoother ride in Washington than in his home town — where he was unable to win over a fractious city council to some of his transportation goals — is another matter.
Among other things, the Transportation Department presides over the nation’s aviation system, highways, public transportation, and ports and waterways. And while the secretary is a distant 14th in line for succession to the presidency, the power of the job is partly to shower federal largess on districts for major infrastructure projects.
It will be a tall order for Foxx, who turned 42 on Tuesday, to reverse the frustrations of the DOT bureaucracy. But the former corporate lawyer can, in his most eloquent moments, describe in palpably human terms what is at stake on transit issues.
“It’s income, history and perception,” he said in February, referring to his support for expansion of a streetcar line to a primarily poor and minority neighborhood in Charlotte. “There are people who live in Central Avenue and Beatties Ford Road who have as much ambition as someone in south Charlotte.”
Virtually the whole city shimmers with ambition. It’s home to major financial institutions such as Bank of America. Its airport — one of the busiest in the country by virtue of passengers and takeoffs — places it squarely on the national and even international radar.
Foxx, who declined to comment awaiting confirmation, reflects the city’s pro-business spirit.
Richard Thurmond, the publisher of Charlotte Magazine who has known Foxx for more than 20 years, said he recalled the casual lunch where his friend talked about running for office one day and that “one of the first things he talked about was transit.”
“He got right away that transit is not just about moving people but about what it can do for cities and regions,” he said. “And this was just two guys over lunch — not like he had formed policies or positions — but thinking about things that can have an impact. That’s what defined Anthony: thinking about what can have the most impact.”
Mary Newsom, associate director of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Urban Institute, said, “As mayor, he sees the big picture and articulates the big picture in a way that mayors have sometimes not being able to.”
“His weakness is in schmoozy politicking, the Lyndon Johnson skill of working your allies and working your opponents and getting what you want in the end,” Newsom said. “He’s pretty young and doesn’t have enough scar tissue. He seems to learn from his scar tissue, but he’s too young to have accumulated enough.”