President Obama's nominee for Transportation Secretary, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, puts an end to speculation about who will fill the shoes of the outgoing secretary Ray LaHood. (What happened to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa? He must be destined for other things.)
Last week's nomination of Foxx also sparks other questions.
Policymakers in Washington, D.C. are less familiar with Foxx than they were with LaHood, who spent 10 years in Congress before taking the helm of the Transportation Department. Yet Foxx is like LaHood in that he has no special expertise in transportation issues, but he has a fair amount of experience in government. A Charlotte native, he worked for the House Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department before he returned to Charlotte, where he sat on the city council and eventually became mayor.
The only thing we really know about Foxx's transportation inclinations is that he fought for a light rail and streetcar system in Charlotte. If this fascination with rail turns out to be a passion for Foxx, it could be a huge boon for alternate transportation advocates and urban enthusiasts. "The fact that Foxx comes from a major central city is also a huge benefit. It means he understands urban needs, which aren't just highways," wrote urban planner Dan Malouff on his Greater, Greater Washington blog.
It is unclear how Foxx will handle the highway and road network, which makes up most of the surface transportation budget. But that probably doesn't matter. The Charlotte Observer pointed out in an editorial that Foxx's thin transportation resume is not unusual. "Since 1966, when the post was created, fewer than half of the country's 16 transportation secretaries had expertise in the field."
Foxx probably won't have to worry about surface transportation immediately, as Congress is largely responsible for coming up with a way to fund the highway and transit bill when it expires at the end of next year. If Foxx follows LaHood's lead, he will stay far away from the budget debates on Capitol Hill and weigh in only on proposed policies that could thwart the administration's plans. Of course, there may not be much left to fight for. Congress has already managed to thwart the administration's infrastructure plans by cutting funding for everything it cares about, like high-speed rail, and repeatedly rejecting the White House's $50 billion stimulus and infrastructure bank proposal.
What does Foxx's urban experience bring to the table for the Transportation Department? Does it matter that he knows little about highway funding formulas and infrastructure loan programs? What should Foxx be fighting for in the administration and in Congress? What can he learn from LaHood's experience? How should he handle the big issues coming up this year on water resources and passenger rail?