WASHINGTON May 18 When Anthony Foxx took over
from the hard-charging Ray LaHood last July as U.S.
transportation secretary, he had big shoes to fill and needed to
adjust from his job as a city mayor to presiding over a
sprawling agency with 55,000 employees.
Less than a year later, Foxx, 43, has emerged as an
up-and-coming talent in President Barack Obama's Cabinet, a
central player in Obama's effort to persuade Congress to approve
new transportation funding and who just last week fined General
Motors $35 million for safety violations linked to 13
"Crashes happened and people died," Foxx told a news
conference in announcing the penalties.
It has been a speedy rise for Foxx, a former mayor of
Charlotte, North Carolina, who got Democrats' attention in 2012
when his city played host to the Democratic National Convention
where Obama was nominated for a second term.
Foxx does not have the flair for the dramatic like his
predecessor, Ray LaHood, a former congressman from Illinois
whose verbal outbursts on issues such as distracted driving made
But after a tentative start he has become increasingly more
visible, briefing reporters at the White House and appearing
with Obama at the aging Tappan Zee Bridge in New York state last
week to argue for increased transportation funding.
LaHood likes what he sees so far in his successor, saying
Foxx has "really gotten up to speed quickly" and that his call
for more transportation money is just what is needed.
"The U.S. is a joke right now," LaHood told Reuters. "The
country is one giant pothole because of the devastating winter
we had and nobody in Congress is stepping up and doing what we
need to do, which is pass a bill."
Foxx, who like Obama is African-American, brings an
outsider's view to the president's Cabinet meetings.
"He just brings a good perspective to the Cabinet," said a
senior White House official. "Obviously a lot of folks at the
table have a variety of experiences, but he was recently outside
of Washington and was an executive."
Foxx's main job in coming months is to sound the alarm about
what the Obama administration sees as a critical priority:
Providing funding for transportation projects by the end of
The administration has proposed $302 billion over four years
and Foxx is warning that unless Congress acts, up to 700,000
Americans will lose their jobs over the next year and various
road and bridge projects may be delayed or shut down completely.
Some of those involved in the transportation industry were
disappointed that the administration's proposal to replenish the
Highway Trust Fund does not raise the gasoline tax but instead
relies on the uncertain prospects of corporate tax reform as a
An aviation lobbyist said that while Foxx clearly
understands the ins and outs of the transit system, he will need
to learn more about transportation safety.
"I don't think he came into the job saying he's a safety
guru, and that should be the primary focus of a transportation
secretary. I'm not critical of him, but I just think he's
somewhat of a neophyte," said the lobbyist, who asked to remain
Others, however, saw Foxx's fine of $35 million on GM as a
sign that just like LaHood before him, he understands the need
to be forceful about highway safety.
"I think what it tells me about him is that they are totally
on top of this issue inside the department and that they're
sending a message that this won't be tolerated," said Marcia
Hale, president of Building America's Future Educational Fund.
(Editing by Caren Bohan and Ken Wills)