After he was named state transportation secretary Thursday morning, Nick Tennyson said he would keep up the campaign for Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed $2.85 billion in highway and infrastructure bonds.
“We want to connect North Carolina citizens to opportunity,” Tennyson told members of the state Board of Transportation. “We can’t build a road and cause something to happen at the end of that road, necessarily. But the general focus is connecting people with opportunity – and then being amazed at what they make of it.”
Tennyson, 64, has served as chief deputy secretary at the state Department of Transportation since 2013. He succeeds Tony Tata, who quit as DOT secretary last week.
McCrory came to the transportation board meeting to announce Tennyson’s promotion. He said the two men had become friends more than 20 years ago when both were mayors – Tennyson in Durham, McCrory in Charlotte.
With House and Senate leaders pushing competing ideas for boosting transportation funds, the governor reiterated his call for a November referendum vote on his Connect NC highway and infrastructure bond packages. He said it was important to have a new DOT secretary on the job right away.
“I felt I needed to make this decision quickly and concisely,” McCrory said. “We want to invest in transportation needs for the future as quickly as possible. ... And to have this talent that’s available to step right in, no training needed whatsoever, is something we have to take advantage of right now.”
Two of Tata’s high-level appointees have left DOT recently, including Rudy Lupton, who resigned late last week as DOT’s logistics director. Tennyson said Lupton had decided to take another job before Tata stepped down, and he said he did not expect to see other departures.
“We’ve got a great group of people in the NCDOT,” Tennyson said.
I know we can continue to do great things, and I’m looking forward to taking credit for all of them.
Nick Tennyson, new NCDOT secretary
He grinned and drew laughs from board members when he added, “I know we can continue to do great things, and I’m looking forward to taking credit for all of them.”
Tata resigned abruptly last Tuesday, leaving DOT the same day. He cited the stresses of the job, the demands of his side career as an author of military action thrillers, and the needs of his wife and family. Tata also said he had not ruled out running for a seat in Congress.
A retired Army brigadier general, Tata served as Wake County school superintendent before McCrory hired him to run DOT in 2013.
McCrory thanked Tata, who did not attend Thursday’s meeting.
“Without that leadership, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” McCrory said. “To have him help implement our vision was very, very beneficial for the state of North Carolina. I’m not going to get teary-eyed like I did yesterday with Secretary Wos.”
McCrory wiped tears from his eyes Wednesday when he announced the departure of Aldona Wos as health and human services secretary.
Tennyson had been considered a strong candidate to succeed Tata, but he was not the only person in the running. State Rep. Charles Jeter, a Mecklenburg County Republican, also had expressed interest in the job.
Tennyson, a Republican, was mayor of Durham from 1997 to 2001 when he and McCrory co-founded a group of mayors, the Metropolitan Coalition, to advocate for the interests of North Carolina cities.
He was a naval officer before beginning a career as a home builder and developer in Durham. In the late 1980s, he began working with trade associations, including the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce. He was executive vice-president for the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange and Chatham counties from 1995 to 2013.
Tennyson has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Duke and a master’s in human resources management from Pepperdine University in California.
Ned Curran of Charlotte, the transportation board chairman, said Tennyson was a good choice for the top DOT job.
“Nick has a very engaging style,” Curran said. “He quickly conveys a knowledge of the subject matter and a willingness to listen, to be collaborative — but also a sense of urgency to get things done.”
Gov. Pat McCrory restocked his cabinet this week, replacing two departing department secretaries with Rick Brajer at Health and Human Services on Wednesday and Nick Tennyson at Transportation on Thursday.
“Even with losing some great talent, I’m proud to say we still have the best cabinet in the United States of America,” McCrory said Thursday. “I always said I would surround myself with smart people as governor.”
Here’s the current lineup of McCrory’s department secretaries:
Administration: Bill Daughtridge
Commerce: John Skvarla
Revenue: Lyons Gray (nomination to Utilities Commission pending)
Cultural Resources: Susan Kluttz
Public Safety: Frank Perry
Environment and Natural Resources: Donald Van Der Vaart
Transportation: Nick Tennyson
Health and Human Services: Rick Brajer