Nation & World

After a decade in politics, DOT chief Foxx now wants to look elsewhere for solutions

McClatchy DC

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pointed to one of the few remaining pieces of art hanging on the walls of his spacious office Wednesday and said it epitomized his political tenure in Washington and Charlotte.

The work, titled “The Juggler,” depicts a black figure lofting rings over his head in a red background.

“I always like to have that in eyesight because both as mayor of Charlotte and this job you feel there are a lot of balls in the air,” Foxx said of the work given to him by North Carolina artist Juan Logan. “Whenever I look at that piece I see myself at the center of it.”

Come noon Friday, Foxx will move away from that center. Donald Trump’s swearing in as the nation’s 45th president signals the end of Foxx’s tenure as transportation secretary.

It also likely means an extended absence from elective or appointed political office, a new experience for the man who served as Charlotte’s mayor and was tapped by President Barack Obama to be transportation secretary in 2013. Foxx, first elected to the Charlotte City Council in 2005, became Charlotte’s youngest mayor when he was elected in 2009.

Sitting in his office atop the Transportation Department’s Southeast Washington headquarters, Foxx, 45, talked about the next phase of his life, though he didn’t say specifically what he’ll do next or where he’ll reside.

I’ve grown more concerned that it’s harder to get things done, first and foremost, and it’s harder for the public to reach real consensus when they’re getting a lot of white noise on issue to issue

Outgoing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

Foxx, who grew up off Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte and graduated from West Charlotte High and Davidson College, sidestepped talk of possibly seeking elective office again in North Carolina. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis’ term expires in 2020 and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s first term ends in four years. Foxx had considered running for governor in 2012.

“I can’t say that’s where my head is right now,” Foxx said. “We’re at an inflection point in our country and I think we need some fresh legs, some young voices out there that come along and maybe have different ideas. I think you can get stale in these roles, and I never want to be stale. I’d rather walk out the door, not get kicked out the door.”

That said, he feels that “there’s something I can add to help people who are thinking about running for public office.”

“Probably more than being an officeholder right now, I feel like part of my responsibility, and part of what I feel like what is important for me to do, is to be a private citizen and to do the work of trying to bring people together, even unlikely groups together to solve problems outside of politics.”

Foxx has a general idea of what he wants to do: explore the rural-urban divide that was a crucial element to Trump’s victory; the racial divide exposed by unrest in Charlotte and other cities in recent years; and ways repair a political party system in which both major parties are viewed by many as broken.

He said his up-close view of the political process as a mayor and a cabinet secretary may enable him to “impart some semblance” of knowledge of how seemingly disparate political factions – urban, suburban, and rural – really share the same concerns and should work together.

“That coalition has been dormant for a long time, but it’s a powerful coalition,” Foxx said.

What Foxx says he hasn’t figured out yet is exactly how he’ll do it. One thing he’s sure of, though, is that he intends to make North Carolina a laboratory for his developing ideas.

“I can’t tell you today what that way is. That’s why I feel like that’s something I’m called to do,” he said. “My interest is in just trying to learn and work to bring people together outside of politics as someone who is not running for office but who just cares that the fiber of our country remains strong.”

As for paying the bills, Foxx said he’ll likely hit the speaker’s circuit and wants to write non-fiction books.

“My kids are 10 and 12, they eat a lot and I have to figure out how to feed them,” he said. “I’m interested in writing and I’ll probably have a word or two to say on the speaker’s circuit. We’ll see how it works out.”

Reflecting on his tenure as transportation secretary, Foxx said he contributed in “raising the bar substantially in aviation safety,” helped prod Congress in passing its first long-term transportation bill in more than a decade, and laid the groundwork for regulating new technologies like self-driving vehicles and drones.

In an 11-page exit memo, Foxx said the next transportation secretary will have to deal with “a period of advanced automated technologies in transportation, an infrastructure system that continues to work for some and against others in society.”

Trump nominated Elaine Chao, who served as labor secretary under President George W. Bush and deputy transportation secretary under President George H. W. Bush, to succeed Foxx.

Foxx received generally high marks for his stewardship at the transportation department.

“I thought he was very responsive, very professional, and very effective in terms of the mission that he had,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. “He came to South Dakota and rode a railroad with me in the dead of winter. He tried to come and learn about my state, what makes it tick.”