GROUNDBREAKING LEADER. Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y.
Mineta greets LYNX bus drivers and representatives during a tour of the
LYNX bus facility in downtown Orlando, Florida, in this April 27, 2006
file photo. Mineta, who broke racial barriers for Asian Americans
serving in high-profile government posts and ordered commercial flights
grounded after the 9/11 terror attacks as the nation’s federal
transportation secretary, passed away last month. He was 90 years old.
(AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, File)
TRAILBLAZING POLITICIAN. Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman
Y. Mineta gestures while taking a question after delivering a speech in
which the Bush administration issued new rules ratcheting up gas mileage
requirements for pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, and vans, in
Baltimore, in this March 29, 2006 file photo. Mineta passed away last
month at the age of 90. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner, File)
From The Asian Reporter, V32, #6 (June 6, 2022), pages 8 & 11.
Norman Mineta, transportation secretary in 9/11 era,
By Brian Witte and Terence Chea
The Associated Press
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Norman Y. Mineta, who broke racial barriers for
Asian Americans serving in high-profile government posts and ordered
commercial flights grounded after the 9/11 terror attacks as the
nation’s federal transportation secretary, passed away last month. He
was 90 years old.
John Flaherty, Mineta’s former chief of staff, said Mineta died
peacefully at his home surrounded by family in Edgewater, Maryland, east
of the nation’s capital.
"His cause of death was a heart ailment," Flaherty added. "He was an
extraordinary public servant and a very dear friend."
Mineta broke racial barriers for Asian Americans in becoming mayor of
San Jose, California early in his political career. He later became the
first Asian American to become a federal cabinet secretary, serving
under both Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican George W.
Bush went on to award Mineta the nation’s highest civilian honor, the
Presidential Medal of Freedom. In a statement, the former president said
Mineta was "a wonderful American story about someone who overcame
hardship and prejudice to serve in the United States Army, congress, and
the cabinet of two Presidents."
"As my Secretary of Transportation, he showed great leadership in
helping prevent further attacks on and after 9/11. As I said when
presenting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Norm has given
his country a lifetime of service, and he’s given his fellow citizens an
example of leadership, devotion to duty, and personal character," the
former president said.
The son of Japanese immigrants who spent two years of his childhood
incarcerated at a World War II internment camp, Mineta began his
political career leading his hometown of San Jose before joining the
Clinton administration as commerce secretary and then crossing party
lines to serve in Bush’s cabinet.
As Bush’s transportation secretary, Mineta led the department during
the crisis of September 11, 2001, as hijacked commercial airliners
barrelled toward U.S. landmarks. After a second plane crashed into the
World Trade Center, Mineta ordered the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) to ground all civilian aircraft — more than 4,500 in flight at the
time. It was the first such order given in U.S. aviation history.
Mineta was subsequently tasked with restoring confidence in air
travel in the aftermath of the terror attacks. He oversaw the hasty
creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which took
over responsibility for aviation security from the airlines.
Within a year, the TSA had hired tens of thousands of airport
screeners, put air marshals on commercial flights, and installed
high-tech equipment to screen air travellers and their luggage for
The effort was derided at the time for wasteful spending and causing
long lines at airports. But Mineta, widely liked and respected in
Washington for his deep knowledge of transportation issues, managed to
escape the brunt of that criticism.
In 2006, he resigned at age 74 after five-and-a-half years in his
post, making him the longest-serving transportation secretary since the
agency was created in 1967.
Born on November 12, 1931, Norman Yoshio Mineta was 10 years old and
wearing his Cub Scouts uniform when he and his parents were transported
to be incarcerated in Wyoming after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
He went on to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley,
with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and served as an
Army intelligence officer in Korea and Japan. After three years with the
military, he returned to San Jose to run his father’s Mineta Insurance
Mineta’s foray into politics came in 1967, when San Jose’s mayor
tapped him to fill a vacant seat on the city council. He won re-election
and served four more years on the council before winning the city’s top
seat in 1971, making him the first Asian-American mayor of a major city.
It now has an airport that bears his name.
Mineta was elected to congress in 1974 and served 10 terms
representing Silicon Valley. During his tenure, he pushed for more
funding for the FAA and co-authored a landmark law that gave state and
local governments control over highway and mass transit decisions.
The co-founder of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
also scored a personal victory when he helped win passage of the Civil
Liberties Act of 1988, which required the U.S. government to apologize
to the 120,000 Japanese Americans forced to live in wartime internment
camps. Former internees also received reparations of $20,000 each.
In 1993, Mineta became chairman of the House Public Works and
Transportation Committee — another first — but he quickly lost that job
after Republicans won control of the House in 1994.
Mineta resigned from congress in 1995 to join Lockheed Martin Corp.
as senior vice president of its transportation division, which built and
operated electronic toll collection systems.
But Washington came calling again five years later when Clinton, in
the final months of his presidency, appointed him to replace William
Daley as commerce secretary.
Mineta then became the first cabinet secretary to make the switch
directly from a Democratic to Republican administration. He was the only
Democrat in Bush’s cabinet.
As transportation secretary, Mineta successfully promoted private
investment in roads and bridges such as the Chicago Skyway and Indiana
Toll Road and helped secure passage of a $286 billion highway spending
plan after almost two years of wrangling with congress.
After overseeing the rapid launch of the TSA, Mineta had his
department downsized by almost two-thirds when the TSA and Coast Guard
were moved to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 in the biggest
government reorganization in nearly six decades.
After retiring from public service, he joined the public relations
firm Hill & Knowlton as vice chairman and settled with his wife,
Danealia, in Maryland near Chesapeake Bay.
Chea reported from San Francisco.
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