President Obama's nominee to be the nation's 16th Secretary of Transportation, Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony R. Foxx, may bring many qualifications to the position but significant transportation experience is not one of them.
Foxx, 42, has no transportation experience at any level of government or industry. As mayor, he has been involved in some transportation issues, namely extending a light rail line in Charlotte, opening another runway at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, completing a highway widening, and bringing trolleys back to Charlotte. Additionally, in March, Foxx signed a lease with Norfolk Southern Corp. to create a freight hub at the Charlotte airport that in part would provide a major rail link with seaports in Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla. But for the most part, Foxx inherited mass transit programs started by his successor, Pat McCrory, who was Charlotte's mayor from 1995 to 2009 and is now North Carolina governor.
Foxx, a Democrat, said in early April he would not seek re-election because he wanted to spend more time with his family. Then the White House came calling. In accepting the nomination, Foxx—who still faces Senate confirmation—becomes the first African-American cabinet selection in President Obama's second term.
Foxx would not be the first mayor to hold the top Department of Transportation position. Federico Peña had been mayor of Denver when President Clinton chose him in 1993. In 1979, President Carter tapped Neil Goldschmidt, mayor of Portland, Ore., for the job.
Presidential administrations have often scoured the mayoral rolls when seeking a candidate for DOT secretary. By the nature of their jobs, mayors are generally involved in mobility and infrastructure issues, two elements that occupy a chunk of a DOT secretary's time.
Another mayor believed to have been on President Obama's short list, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, manages a city with a much larger massive transportation footprint than does Foxx. Villaraigosa was also intimately involved in settling an eight-day strike by clerical workers late last year that shut down the Port of Los Angeles and severely curtailed operations at the adjacent Port of Long Beach, the nation's busiest port complex.
It could be further debated that both men's resumes pale next to what could have been the best choice: Deborah A.B. Hersman, current chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the highly regarded independent agency that investigates air, rail, and pipeline accidents. Hersman was named to the NTSB board by President Bush in 2004, appointed NTSB chairman by President Obama in 2009, and reappointed in 2011.
Before joining NTSB, Hersman was a senior advisor to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee from 1999 to 2004. She also holds a commercial driver's license, making her well-versed in motor carrier safety issues that with the advent of CSA 2010 and the new driver "Hours of Service" rules take up more of a DOT secretary's time than ever.
Hersman, like Villaraigosa, was believed to have been one of the top candidates. It is unknown whether she was offered the post but declined it.