When President Obama nominated Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to be the next secretary of transportation, he gave the rising politician a chance to become one of the youngest cabinet members in history. But Foxx isn’t qualified for the job.
In nominating Foxx, the president cited the improvements to Charlotte’s airport and light rail system during his tenure. But even a cursory look at Foxx’s record reveals that the mayor has struggled to convince politicians from either party to support his transportation proposals.
Even the Charlotte Observer, Foxx’s hometown newspaper, notes that, “[a]s Charlotte’s mayor, Anthony Foxx’s biggest setbacks have been transportation related: His inability to secure a 2.5-mile streetcar extension and the possibility that lawmakers could shift control of the airport from the city to an authority.”
Foxx has made streetcars the lynchpin of his plans to improve Charlotte’s public transportation system, but during his four years as mayor, he’s failed to deliver. Not only are streetcars inefficient, they cost taxpayers twice as much as conventional bus systems. It’s no wonder that Democrats and Republicans alike on the Charlotte City Council have refused to fund Foxx’s proposal. In fact, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) — a former Charlotte mayor himself — recently announced that the city could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding for light rail if it goes forward with Foxx’s streetcar project.
Foxx has also struggled to maintain control of Charlotte’s airport — the sixth-busiest in the nation and one of the city’s most valuable assets. The state legislature is considering wrestling control of the airport from the city and transferring power to a state board. Foxx, a vocal opponent of this plan, has seen US Airways, the airport’s largest carrier, edge from neutral toward supporting the state plan.
On Monday, Foxx said, “There is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican road, bridge, port, airfield or rail system. We must work together across party lines to enhance this nation’s infrastructure.” He has the right attitude, but if Foxx can’t navigate the political waters in a city with fewer than one million people, he’ll have a heck of a time coordinating between Congress and the executive branch to make improvements to one of the most complex transit systems in the world.
The last four transportation secretaries brought extensive federal experience to the table. With only a short stint as mayor under his belt — a stint that has been marred by failed small projects and political fights with both parties — Foxx is simply not ready to supervise the Department of Transportation and its $72 billion budget.
America’s massive transportation network is vital to our economic security and must be guided by a sure and steady hand, not a rookie with an uneven record. Unfortunately, President Obama has opted for a rising star in the Democratic Party who hasn’t even been able to solve his own city’s transit woes.
Jason Stverak is the president of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.