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Obama Adds to Cabinet Diversity, Picks Charlotte Mayor for Transportation Secretary

President Obama is planning to announce today the appointment of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx as his next transportation secretary, according to published reports. By filling one of the last remaining slots of his second-term Cabinet with an African- American,  the president will  address growing criticism that his inner circle is too white.

Foxx, who turns 42 tomorrow, will replace current Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and become the second African-American in the Cabinet, along with Attorney General Eric Holder.

The other names on the short list for  transportation secretary were Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Debbie Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Foxx has been considered a rising star among Democrats after becoming the first from the party to be elected to the Charlotte mayor’s office in 22 years. In 2011, Politico named him one of “50 politicos to watch.”

In his speech at the Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte, he called it “the city where Americans have come together to move our country forward and make great things possible.”

“I was born to a single mom and raised by her and my grandparents,” Foxx told the convention crowd. “They taught me to take pride in hard work, to take responsibility for my actions, and to understand that education could expand my mind and transform my life. From West Charlotte High School to Davidson College, where I was the first black student body president; from NYU Law School to practicing law in the public and private sectors; from the Charlotte City Council to becoming Charlotte’s first Democratic mayor in 22 years to this stage tonight, I live by the values my family and what this community taught me.

“And you know what?” he said. “I have seen President Obama at work, and these are his values, too.”

An administration official told Politico that “as mayor of one of America’s most vibrant cities, Anthony Foxx knows firsthand that investing in world-class infrastructure is vital to creating good jobs and ensuring American businesses can grow and compete in the global economy.”

Though Foxx hasn’t worked directly in the transportation industry, as Charlotte’s mayor he successfully pushed for expanding the city’s LYNX streetcar to University of North Carolina-Charlotte; he created the Charlotte Regional Intermodal Facility that transfers cargo between trucks and trains; and he was responsible for the building of a new runway at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.

During the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, comedian Conan O’Brien joked about the lack of diversity in Obama’s cabinet, telling the president, “your hair is so white, it could be a member of your Cabinet.”

Obama also had a joke about his gray hair, at the same time making light of the bizarre Republican attacks on him.

“These days, I look in the mirror and I have to admit, I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be,” he said to big laughs. “Time passes. You get a little gray.”

He also got big laughs with these pokes at Republicans:

“My charm offensive has helped me learn some interesting things about what’s going on in Congress. It turns out – absolutely nothing.”

“I know Republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012, but one thing they all agree on is they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities. And look, call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they could start with. Hello? Think of me as a trial run, you know?”

“Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress. ‘Why don’t you get a drink with [Senate Republican minority leader] Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”

And then there was this: “I’m also hard at work on plans for the Obama library and some have suggested we put it in my birthplace but… I’d rather keep it in the United States.”

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