LaHood, a Republican, made the announcement in a memo to staffers Jan. 29, saying he would stay on until a successor is named.
LaHood detailed a string of DOT achievements during his tenure, beginning with the efforts to curtail distracted driving: “We have put safety front and center with the Distracted Driving Initiative.”
In the memo to DOT staffers, LaHood wrote: “I’ve told President Obama, and I’ve told many of you, that this is the best job I’ve ever had.”
The president, also a former legislator from Illinois, thanked LaHood for his service and “for his friendship.”
It is not considered unusual for a Cabinet member to leave after one term. Several major media outfits speculated that LaHood would be leaving before Obama’s second term.
In an interview with the AP, LaHood said he first informed the president a week after the re-election, but remained “conflicted” about leaving. He repeated his intentions not to seek another public post.
“I have had a good run,” LaHood said.
Speculation about a successor included Debbie Hersman, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Hersman (pictured, left) has advocated a complete ban on cell phone use while driving. LaHood disagreed with the position, saying “the problem is not hands-free” (operation of cell phones).
L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also was considered a possible replacement. Villaraigosa has been widely credited with expanding L.A.’s high-speed rail system. (Obama has been under some pressure to include more women and minorities in his second-term appointments.)
Citing the distracted driving crusade, the Washington Post said LaHood had “a higher profile than several predecessors in the role, traditionally played out in the shadow of more glamorous Cabinet jobs.”
Read the blog post: “For Ray LaHood, a standing ovation”
The Governors Highway Safety Association said it was “saddened” to learn of LaHood’s departure from the Department of Transportation. “As secretary, his commitment to behavioral highway safety was unprecedented,” the group said. LaHood was “perhaps best known for his passion in combating distracted driving,” GHSA noted.
In the memo to staffers, LaHood said of his exit: “I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity.”
He was the only remaining Republican in Obama’s cabinet.
LaHood represented Illinois’s 18th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2009. He served on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee from 1995 until 2000.
Obama nominated him for the DOT in late 2008 and he was confirmed in late January 2009.