President Barack Obama tapped Charlotte, N.C., mayor Anthony Foxx as the new secretary of transportation on Monday.
The choice is seen as part of an effort to boost the number of minorities in high-level positions on his Cabinet.
The nomination of Foxx, who led last year’s Democratic National Convention, would make him the only African American selected for a Cabinet opening in Obama’s second term. Attorney General Eric H. Holder currently is the only African American now leading a Cabinet department.
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.
Obama has been under pressure to add more diversity to his Cabinet. The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus criticized Obama for the lack of minority candidates in a terse letter last month.
“The people you have chosen to appoint in this new term have hardly been reflective of this country’s diversity,” Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, wrote in March.
The lack of diversity served as one of the most pointed punch lines at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday. Featured performer Conan O’Brien poked fun at the president, comparing the Cabinet’s makeup to the president’s aging appearance.
“Mr. President, your hair is so white, it could be a member of your Cabinet,” he said.
If confirmed, Foxx would replace Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who announced in January that he would leave the job once a successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The transportation secretary leads a staff of almost 60,000 people across the country and overseas federal highway, air, railroad, and maritime and other transportation areas.
Foxx doesn’t have an extensive transportation background, though he has some Washington experience. In addition to his work on the national convention and city-related lobbying visits, the Davidson College graduate served on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee earlier in his career from 1999-2001 and before that worked two years in the civil rights division of the justice department.