Obama taps Charlotte Mayor Foxx for secretary of Transportation

President Obama on Monday officially nominated Charlotte Mayor Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxFive takeaways from the new driverless car guidelines White House rolls out guidelines for self-driving cars Feds set to unveil self-driving car guidelines MORE (D) to be the next U.S. Transportation secretary.

Obama introduced Foxx at the White House and said the Charlotte, N.C., mayor would bring experience implementing transportation programs at the local level to the top transportation job in his Cabinet.

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"When Anthony became mayor in 2009, Charlotte, like the rest of the country, was going through a bruising economic crisis," Obama said. "But the city has managed to turn things around. The economy is growing. There are more jobs, more opportunity. And if you ask Anthony how that happened, he’ll tell you that one of the reasons is that Charlotte made one of the largest investments in transportation in the city’s history."

Prior to the announcement of Foxx as his DOT pick, Obama had come under criticism from normally supportive groups like the Congressional Black Caucus for not appointing more African-Americans to positions in his Cabinet.

Foxx, who is black, will become the second African-American member of Obama’s Cabinet if he is confirmed, joining Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderLawyer claims death threats after anti-Black Lives Matter lawsuit Adviser: Obama can’t ‘erase decades’ of racism Airbnb enlists civil rights leaders in discrimination fight MORE.

White House press secretary Jay Carney defended Obama’s Cabinet selections on Monday, saying before the Foxx announcement that the president was committed to diversity.

"The president believes that diversity is very important because diversity in his Cabinet and among his top advisers improves the decision-making process," Carney said Monday. "It improves the inputs, and therefore improves his capacity to deliberate and make the best decisions possible when it comes to policy for the country."

Foxx has been seen as rising star in Democratic politics after winning election to be Charlotte mayor in 2009, one year after Obama carried the traditionally Republican state of North Carolina in his first presidential election. He will be the 17th transportation secretary since the department was created in the 1960s.

Now after serving two terms as mayor of Charlotte, Foxx comes now to the DOT position. He touted his experience in the city working with Republican state lawmakers as he pushed for public transportation projects like light rail lines and streetcars on Monday.

Foxx pledged to continue reaching across the aisle in Washington if he is confirmed as transportation secretary.

“There is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican road, bridge, port, air field or rail system," Foxx said. "We must work together across party lines to enhance this nation's infrastructure."

The selection of the Charlotte mayor was praised by transportation advocates Monday, who noted Foxx’s support for road and transit projects in his city.

“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,” American Road and Transportation Builders Association President Pete Ruane said in a statement.

“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,” Ruane continued.

Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also heaped praise on both Foxx and Obama.

“I know every mayor is thrilled today because one of their's will become Transportation secretary," LaHood said of Foxx, adding that the appointment sent a message that “mayors count” and “cities count.”

LaHood cities his friendship with Obama, going back to when both men represented Illinois in Congress, and called the Obama presidency “one of the most historic” administrations in U.S. history.

“He's going to have many legacies, but his transportation legacy will be high-speed rail," LaHood said of Obama. “Lincoln started the rail system in America. Obama has started high-speed rail."

Public transit advocates are particularly enthused about the selection of Foxx, noting his vocal support for the expansion of Charlotte’s light rail system since he took office there in 2009.

“Mayor Foxx has been a strong advocate for public transportation in Charlotte, and as a local mayor, he understands the critical role public transit plays in the economic vitality of our communities — and the importance of a strong local, state and federal partnership in infrastructure investment,” American Public Transportation Association President Michael Melaniphy said in a statement.

AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind noted that Foxx will have a tough job ahead of him as Congress debates funding for roads and public transit, rail and waterways development in the next two years.

“Mayor Foxx is assuming a critical job during a critical time as our transportation system is suffering from underinvestment due to Washington’s obsession with austerity,” Wytkind said. “We need leadership from this administration on how to fund the nation’s long-term, multi-modal transportation operating and infrastructure needs.

“Report after report concludes that a lack of new investments in transportation is harming our economy and competitiveness, and slowing job creation,” Wytkind continued. “We also hope the next Transportation Secretary will take on some pressing and overdue transportation safety reform initiatives.”

—Justin Sink contributed to this report.