RALEIGH, N.C. — President Barack Obama’s nomination of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to become the next U.S. transportation secretary brings more attention to North Carolina’s largest city and could benefit the rising Democratic star should he return home for higher office later.
The president announced Monday that Foxx is his nominee to succeed Ray LaHood in his Cabinet. Foxx, who must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, recently announced he wouldn’t seek a third term to the mayor’s post, which gave him national recognition when the city hosted the Democratic National Convention in September.
Foxx, who turns 42 on Tuesday, was a key surrogate in North Carolina for the president during his re-election bid last fall and has called Obama a friend. Foxx took a bipartisan tone as he thanked the president for the chance and LaHood, a Republican, for his service during Obama’s first term.
“There is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican road, bridge, port, air field or rail system,” Foxx said during brief remarks in the East Room of the White House. “We must work together across party line to enhance this nation’s infrastructure.”
An attorney for a Charlotte-based transit bus company, Foxx has worked on transportation issues since joining the City Council in 2005, when the mayor was current Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. His mayoral tenure since late 2009 was marked by initial construction for a demonstration electric streetcar line and an agreement with federal transportation officials to pay for half of a light rail line going out to northeast Charlotte.
“All of that has not only helped create new jobs, it’s helped Charlotte become more attractive to business,” the president said. “So I know Anthony’s experience will make him an outstanding transportation secretary.”
A successful term for Foxx in Obama’s Cabinet could bring him the experience and a compelling story should he be interested in elected office later, such as U.S. Senate or governor, said Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“Few competitors out there have U.S. secretary of anything on their resume,” Heberlig said, adding that such a job “expands your policy contacts, your media contacts, your donor contacts.”
Foxx was courted by Democrats early last year to run for governor when then-incumbent Beverly Perdue announced she wasn’t seeking re-election, but he declined a bid.
Foxx, a Charlotte native, went to Davidson College and became the student body’s first black president. He got a law degree at New York University law school and worked for a few years at the U.S. Department of Justice and House Judiciary Committee before returning to Charlotte.
“He’s one of the smartest people that I know. He is one of the most strategic people that I know,” said city council member David Howard, who went to West Charlotte High School with Foxx. “He’s brought a sense of stability and a sense of sure-footedness.”
Howard said having Foxx in Washington should only help the city in terms of receiving proper guidance on how to seek future transportation funding.
Charlotte’s final months as mayor have been met by dust-ups with the Republican-led General Assembly in Raleigh.
Foxx and the Democratic-controlled council have fought a Senate bill that would shift control of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport from the city to a regional panel, with a majority of members coming from surrounding, largely Republican counties.
The city also was rebuffed by legislative leaders to raise the local prepared food and beverage tax to pay for improvements sought by the Carolina Panthers for Bank of America Stadium. The city and the franchise worked out a scaled-back deal approved last week that keeps the Panthers in Charlotte for at least another six years.
Foxx attributed his decision not to run for mayor in part to wanting to spend more time with his family, which includes two school-age children. Heberlig said being a Cabinet secretary may make it easier for Foxx because he won’t have to hold down private and public sector jobs simultaneously.
It wasn’t immediately clear when Foxx would step down from the mayor’s job. The City Council would pick a Democrat to serve out his current term, expiring in December. Howard is among a host of Charlotte pols considering whether to run for a full two-year term as mayor this fall.