Obama adds cabinet diversity by picking Anthony Foxx for Transportation

Moving to complete his second-term cabinet, Obama names the youthful mayor of Charlotte, N.C., Anthony Foxx, to the Transportation post. He would be the second African American in the cabinet.

Larry Downing/Reuters
President Obama listens to Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx after naming him to replace Ray LaHood as Transportation Secretary at the White House in Washington on Monday.

By nominating Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx to be his next Transportation secretary, President Obama adds some additional racial diversity to his administration, comes a step closer to completing his second term Cabinet, and moves a youthful African American politician into the national spotlight.

In a ceremony in the White House East Room Monday afternoon, Mr. Obama called Mayor Fox "one of the most effective mayors Charlotte has ever seen,” and detailed Foxx's transportation experience.

"Since Anthony took office, they have broken ground on a new street car project that is going to bring modern electric tram service to the downtown area, they have expanded the international airport, and they are extending the city’s light rail system," the president said. "All of that has not only helped to create new jobs, it has helped Charlotte become more attractive to business.

"So I know Anthony’s experience will make him an outstanding transportation secretary."

Foxx accepted the job offer in the Obama administration after announcing April 5 that he would leave the mayor’s office at the end of the year to spend more time with his family. “I never intended to be mayor for life,” he told the Charlotte Observer. The nominee, who turns 42 this week, has two children born after he joined the Charlotte City Council in 2005.

If confirmed by the Senate, Foxx would be the second African American in Mr. Obama’s Cabinet, joining Attorney General Eric Holder. Foxx is the first African American among Obama’s picks for his second term team. The lack of diversity has been the target of criticism from politicians and comedians alike.

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D) of Ohio, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to Obama in March complaining that of his appointments up to that time, “none of them have been African American.” She added, “the people you have chosen to appoint in this new term have hardly been reflective of this country’s diversity.”

At Saturday’s White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) dinner, Conan O’Brien referred to the president’s aging appearance saying, “Mr. President, your hair is so white it could be a member of your cabinet.” 

It has taken Obama an unusually long time to announce his choices for his second-term cabinet. Second-term presidents usually move faster seeking to get their team in place before lame-duck status kicks in. For Obama, that likely will come as the 2014 congressional elections draw closer. The president, meanwhile, is close to nominating candidates for two remaining posts, with Chicago hotel magnate Penny Pritzker seen as the likely candidate for Commerce secretary and White House international economics adviser Michael Froman in line to be United States Trade Representative, The New York Times reports.

The Transportation Department has been in the headlines lately as automatic budget cuts from the "sequester" pushed the Federal Aviation Administration to furlough air traffic controllers, triggering airport delays. Last week, Congress acted to give the Department more flexibility to deal with the budget cuts, hoping to restore air travel to normal.

The cabinet post would be “by far the biggest job of Foxx’s career,” notes the Charlotte Business Journal. “He is a part-time mayor in a city government with a budget of less than $2 billion and about 7,000 employees,” the Journal says.

In his 2014 budget, the president is seeking $77 billion for the Transportation Department, which has responsibility for America’s roads, bridges, transit systems, border crossings, railways, and runways. The department has almost 60,000 employees.

The new position would make Foxx one of the nation’s most visible African-American politicians. “This would let him move on from municipal government while retaining a public profile that could set him up for a gubernatorial or senatorial run down the road,” notes Slate’s Matthew Yglesias.

The nomination comes as some black politicians are lamenting the apparent lack of progress for African American politicians in the time since Barack Obama made history and was elected president. Since the 2008 election, not one African-American has been elected to the Senate, although Mo Cowan (D) of Massachusetts was appointed to the body in February. The one African American governor, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, was elected before Obama, and when he leaves office after 2013 may leave the ranks of black governors empty.

“I don’t think Obama has given a lot of thought to what comes next in terms of African-American politics,” PBS NewsHour anchor Gwen Ifill told Politico’s Jonathan Martin.

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