Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to be Next Transportation Secretary
It’s being widely reported today that Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx will be nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the next Transportation Secretary, to replace the retiring Ray LaHood. From the Huffington Post’s story:
President Barack Obama will name Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx as his next Secretary of the Department of Transportation, sources familiar with the administration’s planning told The Huffington Post. The decision is expected to come this week.
Foxx, whose profile rose when his city hosted the Democratic National Convention last summer, announced in early April that he would be leaving office at the end of this year. His name had already been floated as a possible pick for transportation secretary, owing to the work he had done on Charlotte’s transit system, including streetcar and light-rail projects.
Foxx seems like a good pick, someone who will continue LaHood’s strong support for mass transit and passenger rail projects. Of course, that support comes directly from the Oval Office, and as long as Barack Obama is president we could be confident that his Transportation Secretary would have those priorities. But it’s particularly good that a mayor will be in that position, since it’s cities that are currently at the forefront of developing the transportation systems, such as light rail and streetcars, that the Obama Administration is so strongly supporting.
Another mayor, Los Angeles’s Antonio Villaraigosa, had been rumored to be a leading choice to replace LaHood as Transportation Secretary. He would have been a fantastic choice, but as you may recall, Villaraigosa ruled it out back in February.
Transit advocates will find much to like about Anthony Foxx for this role, but not everyone is sold. Conservative blogger Matt Yglesias would prefer to “have a real technical expert run DOT rather than a politician.”
But that doesn’t make any sense. DOT is full of technical experts. We live in a democracy, and politicians exist for a reason. In order to get things done, you need people who not only have the right vision, but the ability to rally public support for it and carry it out. People like Yglesias who subscribe to a neoliberal ideology are generally suspicious of democracy and would prefer policy be made not by the people but by experts. That has never succeeded in generating the necessary public support to put a good idea into action.
Of course, Yglesias assumes that the primary problem is we don’t know what the right policies are. Especially when it comes to transportation, we do know. The problem is on the political side, where Republicans and NIMBYs are having success blocking good policy. Having a technical expert, Steven Chu, as Energy Secretary didn’t help the US adopt dramatically better energy policies.
If we want better transportation policies, we need more organizers, activists, and political leaders. Wonks and technical experts can help us implement a vision, but they aren’t going to be able to produce the public support necessary to make it possible.