Transportation Nominee A Loyal Foot Soldier For Obama

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx has been nominated to head the U.S. Department of Transportation in President Obama's final term. What the soon-to-be 42-year old mayor lacks in transportation credentials, he makes up for in loyalty to the President and a shared vision of the need for better transit systems.

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President Barack Obama's pick for secretary of Transportation is an aspiring young politician. Anthony Foxx is 42 years old and a strong Obama ally. Foxx's city, Charlotte, hosted last year's Democratic National Convention.

From member station WFAE in Charlotte, Julie Rose has this profile.

JULIE ROSE, BYLINE: When President Obama needed a big city mayor to validate his policies at a press conference, Charlotte's Anthony Foxx was there. And when President Obama needed someone to rally his 2012 campaign troops, again, Anthony Foxx was there.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you so much for joining us. And Mayor Foxx?

(APPLAUSE)

ROSE: This was in a conservative precinct in Charlotte just before Election Day.

MAYOR ANTHONY FOXX: Know that our president is grateful for everything you've done over this last four years to have his back. And if we have his back one more time, he'll have our back for four more years.

ROSE: That's proven personally true for Foxx, whose political career began when he became the first black student body president of Davidson College and peaked here.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

FOXX: Welcome. Welcome to the Democratic National Convention in 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MICHAEL BITZER: Anthony Foxx has definitely been the go-to mayor for the president on major issues.

ROSE: Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer says Foxx has been a loyal foot soldier for Obama.

BITZER: That is very important, particularly in a second term because this is basically going to be the president's legacy. He wants people around him who he trusts, who he feels can advocate for his policies.

ROSE: Foxx shares the president's views on the importance of transit, of faster rail travel, of creating walkable cities and using transit to shape urban development. His biggest transportation accomplishment, during two terms as mayor, was securing a $580 million federal grant to extend Charlotte's light rail nine more miles.

FOXX: Our work is not done with the completion of this line. It is a huge project. But in order to make this transit system even stronger, we need to connect the east and the west through transit. We need to connect the airport through transit.

(APPLAUSE)

ROSE: He's been less successful on that front. Foxx got a $25 million federal grant to kick-start an electric streetcar downtown, but has failed to get support from the community - or even fellow Democrats on city council - to extend the project.

At the airport, Foxx broke ground on a rail hub that will link the region directly to seaports in Georgia and South Carolina. But he's also on the verge of losing a battle with Republican state lawmakers who want the airport taken out of the city's control and placed in the hands of a regional authority. Michael Bitzer says finding money to keep the president's transportation vision on track will be Foxx's main challenge in Washington.

BITZER: Particularly today with the tight budgets and discretionary spending is going to be very limited.

ROSE: While Foxx's credentials as a transportation administrator are slim, the White House notes he is the mayor of one of America's most vibrant cities who understands the need to invest in infrastructure. And Bitzer says Foxx is definitely qualified for the other big role of Transportation secretary: cheerleader for the president's policies.

For NPR News, I'm Julie Rose in Charlotte.

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