MARTA chief old ally of Transportation Secretary nominee

Charlotte pols have a message for Georgia pols: pull for Anthony Foxx to be secretary of transportation.

Then you will have a friend in Washington because he has one in Atlanta: MARTA General Manager Keith Parker.

When President Obama nominated the Charlotte mayor to the Cabinet post Monday, he picked a lawyer who cut his transit teeth — especially in how it applied to urban development — when he was a councilman. At the time Parker was the assistant city manager for the North Carolina city.

Foxx, who was elected to the council in 2005 before becoming mayor in 2009, quickly became a champion of streetcars and light rail as the commerce center set out to tie itself together. Parker became his ‘transportation confidant” as Foxx developed his expertise, said Charlotte Councilman James Mitchell.

“They were both passionate about raising the profile of public transportation,” Williams said. “You needed someone to show how transportation affected the quality of life. Until those two joined together, we didn’t have someone to be that advocate. ”

Parker, 46, described the 42-year-old Foxx as a cerebral leader who would hold transit agencies and transportation departments accountable regarding outcomes involving federal grants. If he is confirmed by the Senate, Foxx also would understand the impact quality transit can have in developing neighborhoods and cities, Parker said, which could benefit MARTA's plans to partner with developers in building more housing and retail around rail stations.

“I certainly don’t think our long-term relationship with him would give us an unfair advantage,” Parker said. “What I have seen from him is he is going to be fair and as along as he is fair we have a good shot.”

Obama noted Foxx’s integrating transit and urban development when nominating him. David Howard, a Charlotte councilman who chairs the transportation and planning committee, also credited Parker and his predecessor Ron Tober for much of the city’s success.

Parker came to Charlotte as the chief operating officer for the transit system, overseeing the bus system, while the region was installing its rail system. He moved to assistant city manager spot and was then hired to be transit chief in 2007 after the then- current head resigned in the wake of public anger at the first rail line coming in $236 million over the projected cost.

Parker was charged with rebuilding trust with the public. Foxx, who was elected mayor in 2009, was a vocal supporter.

Whether that trust will pay off for metro Atlanta in the competition for federal grants if Foxx is confirmed will remain to be seen. Foxx also has ties to Mayor Kasim Reed, who spoke at the Charlotte City Council retreat in February.

Buddy Darden, a former congressman and now a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge, noted the Foxx-Parker relationship — especially one where that began when Foxx was a political pup — could only bode well for MARTA and metro Atlanta.

“You value your relationships and you are sometimes wary of people who try to develop them after you’ve become established,” Darden said. ” To be able to pick up the phone or email the person rather than going through four layers of staff is very valuable.”

Tony Dorsey, spokesman for American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said the real issue will be what Foxx decides to make his focus. “Relationships matter but what is going to be his agenda?” said Dorsey. “It could be transit but 80 percent of his budget goes to highways.”

But Williams, the Charlotte councilman, noted there are relationships and then there are relationships. “If he gets confirmed as secretary of transportation and and he needs somebody to rely on for an honest opinion, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t pick up the phone and call area code 404 first,” the councilman said.