Hometown newspaper looks at NTSB chief Hersman's DOT candidacy

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More recently, the paper said Hersman attended a congressional field hearing on pipeline safety that was chaired by one of her biggest supporters on Capitol Hill, West Virginia Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D).

Rockefeller chairs the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, where Hersman worked as a staffer before she was appointed to the NTSB in 2004 by former President George W. Bush.

Rockefeller, who like LaHood has also said he is retiring when his term is up in 2014, has repeated pushed for Obama to appoint Hersman to replace the departing Transportation secretary.

Rockefeller said in a statement provided to The Hill as Hersman emerged as the reported DOT front-runner Monday that she had the "experience and gravitas to be a terrific Secretary of Transportation.

“The next Transportation Secretary will continue this administration’s top priorities of making our transportation system safer and investing in our nation’s crumbling transportation network," said Rockfeller, who will chair the initial confirmation hearing of whoever is appointed to replace LaHood.

"I believe that Debbie Hersman has the experience and gravitas to be a terrific Secretary of Transportation," Rockefeller continued. "Over her tenure as [chairwoman] of the NTSB, she has been a constant reassuring presence during our most difficult transportation accidents."

Rockefeller added that he has known Hermsan "for many years and in every job she has impressed with her deep knowledge of our transportation systems.

"She is an articulate, proven leader who understands that safety comes first," Rockefeller said. "Debbie also knows the importance of rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and would be an effective and persuasive advocate for investing in our roads, bridges, and aviation system.”

A spokeswoman for the NTSB told The Hill on Monday that Hersman was not pursuing the DOT position.

"Chairman Hersman’s full attention is focused on the important work of running the NTSB," NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said.

It is customary for serious contenders for Cabinet posts to remain quiet about having any ambition to hold the position for which they are under consideration.

The White House has not pushed back on the reports about Hersman being the leading contender for the DOT post.

Prior to the reports, the administration had been quiet about both the names of possible contenders to replace LaHood at DOT, or even when such an announcement might be made. A long list of rumored candidates emerged quickly after LaHood announced his retirement, but presumed top candidates Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) have since taken themselves out of consideration.

Villaraigosa in particular was widely thought to be a front-runner for the position, along with Hersman.