Raleigh, N.C. — Weeks after squelching rumors that he was leaving to run for political office, Transportation Secretary Tony Tata resigned Tuesday to, as Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement, focus on "personal and family matters."
"Tony Tata has been a valuable partner in our efforts to reform and modernize North Carolina’s transportation system," McCrory said. "His dedication to the people of North Carolina is in keeping with his long career of service to his community, state and country."
Before joining the Department of Transportation in 2013, Tata served as Wake County school superintendent, where his two-year tenure was marked by political strife.
A new Republican majority on the school board intent on changing the student assignment system in the school district hired him in late 2010, but parental dissatisfaction with the process – and with Tata's redesigned bus routes that took hours to complete – helped Democrats regain control of the board in 2011. Tata then clashed with the new board members over their priorities, and he was fired in September 2012.
Tata had a career in the Army, retiring in 2009 as a brigadier general. In recent years, he has become an author, writing four fiction books, and a frequent guest on cable news shows. His publisher recently signed him to another two-book contract.
"Along with giving 100 percent effort in my day job, I was really working around the clock," he said in a Tuesday interview with WRAL News to explain his sudden departure from DOT.
"There's been a lot of indecision and a lot of turmoil within the family to figure out a way forward for me," he said. "It may seem sudden, but it's not."
In early June, the National Journal quoted an unnamed source who said Tata was preparing to challenge Republican 3rd District Congressman Walter Jones in 2016, but the DOT issued a statement that Tata planned to stay with the agency.
Tata said Tuesday that he wasn't ready to leave at that time, noting that he wanted to finish a deal with environmental groups to settle a long-running court challenge that has blocked construction on a replacement for the aging Bonner Bridge on the Outer Banks. That deal was announced in mid-June.
Tata isn't ruling out a future campaign, however.
"I'm considering every option for the future," he said. "I've always said I will serve where I can do the most good and where I can make the most contribution."
As DOT secretary, he helped implement the Strategic Mobility Formula, which changed the way highway projects are funded to put more emphasis on relieving congestion, improving safety and the potential for long-term job creation. He also integrated airports, rail and ports into the state's 25-year transportation infrastructure plan, and his staff changed office hours and implemented online driver's license renewals at the Division of Motor Vehicles to improve customer service.
"This job takes a toll," he said, calling his schedule of traveling to DOT facilities statewide and dealing with transportation politics in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., "insane."
Together with his time leading Wake County schools, he said, "It's been almost five years of grinding public service."
Chief Deputy DOT Secretary Nick Tennyson has been named acting transportation secretary. Tennyson, a former Durham mayor, has overseen DOT operational and support functions.