As an outspoken critic of cell phone use while driving, Ray LaHood will be missed by those who believe texting while driving is a serious public health issue. As the Transportation Secretary in President Obama’s administration, LaHood took a leadership role in the debate over cell phone use in cars and other problems related to distracted driving. He announced during the week of January 28th that he would not continue as the Transportation Secretary through the president’s second term. As soon as a replacement is named and confirmed, he will step down from the post. His replacement may be Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Reports in the the Huffington Post and other media sources have indicated the mayor may be a candidate for the position. He has been an extremely enthusiastic supporter of the president, was at the inauguration and has made transportation issues a focus of his time as the mayor of LA. His efforts at reducing pedestrian accidents, speeding up road construction, and his commitment to reducing air pollution have all positioned him well for the federal appointment.
Of course there will be critics if Villariagosa is offered the job. He may be particularly vulnerable on the issue of hit and run pedestrian accidents. Some say he has not done enough to acknowledge and alleviate the city’s epidemic of hit and run crashes that involve pedestrians. But he has made many public appearances that indicate this issue is important to him and his administration. He has also taken some concrete actions to improve safety on city streets including redesigned crosswalks designed to improve visibility.
The mayor may also face hurdles due to allegations of ethical problems in the past. The charges related to unreported gifts, nepotism, and controversy surrounding his affair with a television reporter and his subsequent divorce all may create some stumbling blocks for his nomination and confirmation. However, Villaraigosa is nationally popular and is a prominent Latino politician. Whether or not he is offered the position, his efforts to put himself in the conversation indicate that he may have aspirations beyond city leadership.