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Obama passes over Oberstar, will appoint Charlotte’s Foxx to DOT post

WASHINGTON — President Obama will reportedly nominate Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to head the Department of Transportation on Monday, passing over a cadre of potential candidates that included former Minnesota U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar.

Oberstar, the former Democratic chairman of the House Transportation Committee, had said he was interested in the position after current secretary, Ray LaHood, announced his retirement in January. Most observers considered him a long-shot, though the Democrats in the Minnesota delegation had pushed the White House to consider him.

Instead, Obama went with Foxx. Here’s his bio from Raleigh’s News and Observer:

As mayor of what it called one of America’s most vibrant cities, the White House said, Foxx has firsthand knowledge of the type of infrastructure needed to create jobs and compete in a globe economy. The White House touted Foxx’s ability to integrate local, state and federal resources to meet transportation challenges.

Federal officials cited his work breaking ground on a Charlotte streetcar project that would bring an electric tram service through the center of town as well as helping lead expansion of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and plans to extend the city’s light rail system north of the city to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Foxx, who has called Obama a friend, was first elected mayor of the Queen City in 2009. He was re-elected in November 2011 with nearly 70 percent of the vote. He also is a lawyer for Charlotte hybrid bus maker DesignLine.

After a year on the national stage and calls to run for governor, the 41-year-old mayor stunned Charlotte residents this month when he announced that he was leaving 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.

Politico got Oberstar’s reaction to the nomination:

“I wish Mayor Foxx well, but it will take more than good wishes to carry out the work of the DOT over the next three and a half years. Mayor Foxx comes in at the most inauspicious era since DOT was created in 1966,” Oberstar said, citing declining revenues, congressional reluctance to raise the money and “confrontational politics.” As if that wasn’t enough: “Then, there are the myriad operational details of the various modes of transportation which must be mastered to fend off the partisanship which will rain down upon the secretary. I hope that the ‘loyal opposition’ will give the new secretary some space at the outset of his tenure, and allow him to develop ‘rapport’ with the legislative branch — which, as leader of a significant city, Mayor Foxx is well-suited to accomplish,” Oberstar said.

Foxx’s nomination checks several boxes Oberstar’s (or others) wouldn’t have. First, Foxx helps add diversity to a cabinet that black leaders have said lacks it. Last month, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus called on Obama to appoint more African Americans as cabinet secretaries, a role Foxx will fill if the Senate confirms him (Foxx is the first African American appointed to the cabinet since Obama was re-elected).

Foxx is also considered a rising star in Democratic politics. He brought the Democratic National Convention to Charlotte last year, a sign he’s a loyal soldier for Obama (compared to Oberstar, who occasionally butted heads with the Obama administration during his tenure chairing the transportation committee). As Matt Yglesias notes, after a multi-year tenure as the head of DOT, Foxx, 42 on Tuesday, could realistically return to North Carolina and run for higher office.

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com.

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