President Obama on Monday tapped Charlotte, N.C. Mayor Anthony Foxx to replace Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation.

Foxx, whose nomination comes one day before his 42nd birthday, has served as Charlotte’s mayor since 2009. Although his political career has been short so far, Foxx made transportation a key issue for the city by backing a streetcar line funded with a $25 million federal grant. He also led a controversial initiative to expand the local airport and to extend the city’s light rail line. Obama cited that work as a key driver in his decision to nominate Foxx.

Prior to his mayoral stint, Foxx was an attorney at Hunton & Williams LLP and he remains a staff attorney for the Charlotte-based bus manufacturer DesignLine.

While on city council from 2005 to 2009, Foxx chaired the Transportation Committee, was a member of the Economic Development & Planning Committee, and served as the Council’s representative to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Development Corp. and the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The announcement ends months of speculation following LaHood’s announcement last year that he intended to follow-through on his stated desire to leave following the end of the president’s first term in 2012.

Foxx was not among the names most popularly bandied about in recent months, as talk focused mainly on Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and National Transportation Safety Board chair Deborah Hersman. 

Transportation industry advocates and insiders reacted to Foxx’s nomination by praising his achievements in Charlotte, though some were unsure about what his comfort level will be with the political workings in Washington, D.C. He worked briefly as a lawyer at the Justice Department and as House Judiciary Committee staff counsel.

“According to our contractor chapter affiliate and other leaders in North Carolina, Anthony Foxx has demonstrated that he sees the intersection of transportation infrastructure investment and economic development,” said American Road and Transportation Builders Alliance president and chief executive officer Pete Ruane. “As mayor of Charlotte, he’s been a thoughtful voice in advocating for development of all modes of transportation in order to help spur the local economy, create jobs and improve mobility. We look forward to working with him to address the challenges facing our national transportation network.”

Jack Schenendorf, an attorney focused on transportation at Covington and Burling LLP in Washington, said time will tell whether Foxx emerges as a “take charge” secretary or prefers a low-key approach. A key policy difference between Foxx and LaHood could be their viewpoints on urban vs. rural development, Schenendorf said. LaHood was a congressman from sparsely-developed southern Illinois when he was selected for the post.

“Mayor Foxx is coming from a fairly large city, so that’s a slightly different take on it,” Schenendorf said.

The Senate will need to hold a confirmation hearing and vote before Foxx could assume his new role.

“I hope the Senate confirms him quickly, Obama said. “Because we have a lot to do.”

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