President Obama and Anthony Foxx: The President's diversity problem

Mayor Foxx is well qualified, there is no doubt.  But has it been so hard for the President to find qualified African-Americans? Photo: Anthony Foxx / Associated Press

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2013 ― President Obama has formally announced his appointment of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to his Cabinet as Transportation Secretary.

In his remarks, the president listed Foxx’s many accomplishments in revising Charlotte’s aged transportation system. Foxx is well qualified, there is no doubt, but has it been so hard for the president to find qualified African-Americans? 

During the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner, comedian Conan O’Brien joked that the president’s hair was “so white, it could be a member of your Cabinet.” The pin-dropping silence followed by an audible groan made it seem less like a formal affair and more like a Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. 

While this joke touched a raw nerve, before Sunday was out, the president leaked that Anthony Foxx, mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, was his nominee for Transportation Secretary of the United States. 

Was the appointment made as a result of O’Brien’s joke? Probably not. Foxx is well qualified for the post. He has been mayor of Charlotte, N.C. since 2009 and, it is widely agreed that he was very much a part of the effort to bring the 2012 Democratic National Convention to the city. 

President Obama is under criticism for his lack of cabinet diversity. His decisions make comments, such as: 

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 “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? See how it goes.”

Is that how to get thing done in an Obama administration?

Make a joke at a public function and get results. Quip that unemployment is higher than Snoop Lion on weed. That gun violence in Chicago is so bad that the cops are borrowing bullets. How about, the US is so broke, Treasury Secretary Lew can’t pay attention….

But diversity in all levels of our representative government should never be a joke.

President Obama’s record of hiring African Americans is horrible, especially compared to previous Presidents Clinton and Bush. 
In 1993 when President Clinton took office, he appointed five African Americans to his cabinet in his first term: Mike Espy as Secretary of Agriculture; Ron Brown as Secretary of Commerce; Hazel O’Leary as Secretary of Energy; Jesse Brown as Secretary of Veteran Affairs; and Lee Brown as his Drug Czar (The Drug Czar is no longer a Cabinet position.)

Over eight years, President Clinton would appoint four more African Americans to Cabinet-level posts: Alexis Herman as Secretary of Labor; Rod Slater as Secretary of Transportation; and Togo West as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Clinton also appointed Franklin Raines as the director of Office of Management and Budget. 

Franklin Raines would later lead Fannie Mae. Clinton also appointed Eric Holder as Deputy Attorney General. In total, President Clinton appointed nine African Americans to the top positions in his Administration before leaving office. Only one, Eric Holder, would make it into President Obama’s cabinet.

In 2001, when George W. Bush took office, he appointed three African Americans to his Cabinet in his first term. He nominated the first African American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and the first African American National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice. President Bush also appointed Rod Paige as his Education Secretary and Alphonso Jackson as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs. 

Over eight years, President Bush appointed six blacks to top positions in his cabinet.

Is anyone going to argue with me that those persons were not appointed due to their accomplishment, not just because they are black? 
While Foxx was on the list before the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the leak probably has everything to do with the razzing that the President took from Conan O’Brien.

While Foxx brings the necessary experience and credentials to the nomination, it is disappointing that this is only the second cabinet appointment of an African American by an African American.

African American employment at senior positions inside the Beltway and on Pennsylvania Avenue is at an all time low. 

It is not the Republicans that need an outreach program; it’s President Obama. And maybe, just maybe, he needs to adopt a policy of “Do as I do, not just as I say” and not overlook the most qualified nominees, regardless of color.

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