President Obama on Monday nominated Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx (D) as his next transportation secretary, underscoring Obama’s desire both to increase diversity in his Cabinet and increase public investment in roads, bridges and other projects.
In remarks at the White House, Obama credited Foxx with helping turn around Charlotte’s battered economy after the economic crisis in 2008, which had a dramatic impact on the city’s financial services industry.
Foxx responded with a spending plan to refurbish the city’s infrastructure — a microcosm of the type of investment Obama has pushed for the entire country.
“When Anthony became mayor in 2009, Charlotte, like the rest of the country, was going through a bruising economic crisis. But the city has managed to turn things around,” Obama said. “The economy is growing. There are more jobs, more opportunity. And if you ask Anthony how that happened, he’ll tell you that one of the reasons is that Charlotte made one of the largest investments in transportation in the city’s history.”
Foxx also would increase the racial diversity of Obama’s Cabinet, which has been criticized for being dominated by white men. Foxx would become the second black Cabinet secretary on Obama’s team, alongside Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
“I think that the focus here is on making sure that diversity is part of what is sought in picking senior advisers to the president,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “And I think that’s reflected in the choices he’s made.”
If confirmed by the Senate — where there were no signs of significant opposition on Monday — Foxx will replace Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former congressman who lent bipartisan credentials to Obama’s team.
LaHood has recently been at the center of the controversy over Federal Aviation Administration furloughs that caused lengthy airline delays. Congress last week voted to shift funding to alleviate the problem.
But Foxx would still be in charge of a department implementing deep cuts in federal spending at a time when many business leaders are calling for more government investment in infrastructure.
“Mayor Foxx will face many challenges because the nation must address a significant transportation funding shortfall, and there are still too many Americans losing their lives on the nation’s roadways,” Bob Darbelnet, president and CEO of the American Automobile Association, said in a statement on Monday.
Obama used the occasion to renew his call, first unveiled in his State of Union address, to spend $50 billion over the next year on construction projects.
“We need more high-speed rail, and Internet, and high-tech schools, and self-healing power grids, and bridges, and tunnels, and ports,” Obama said. “That’s how we’re going to attract more businesses. That’s how we’re going to create more jobs. That’s how we’re going to stay competitive in this global economy.”
In Charlotte, Foxx has been a major proponent of building public transit, helping lead the effort to create an electric tram service in the city and to expand commerce at the city’s ports, among other projects.
Before his time as mayor began in 2009, Foxx was a member of the Charlotte City Council and practiced law. He has been in Washington before, working for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.