Norman Yoshio Mineta (seen above at left), the first Asian-American to hold a cabinet-level post, passed away at age 90 on May 3.
[Above photo via the National Archives]
A member of the Democratic Party who served as commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton and as transportation secretary under President George W. Bush, Mineta was born in San Jose, CA, to Japanese immigrant parents. During World War II, the Mineta family spent several years interned at the Heart Mountain internment camp near Cody, WY.
Mineta graduated from the University of California-Berkeley School of Business Administration in 1953 with a degree in business administration, then joined the U.S. Army and served as an intelligence officer in Japan and Korea, before returning to civilian life by joining his father in the Mineta Insurance Agency.
He won election in 1974 to the House of Representatives in what was then California’s 13th congressional district. Mineta served in the House until 1995, co-founding the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and serving as its first chair.
He also served as chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure between 1992 and 1994, chaired its aviation subcommittee between 1981 and 1988, and chaired its Surface Transportation subcommittee from 1989 to 1991. Mineta was also a key author of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.
Following a stint in the private sector, Mineta rejoined the government as commerce secretary in 2000 during the end of President Clinton’s second term. He then became transportation secretary under President George W. Bush in 2001 – the only Democrat to serve in Bush’s cabinet, the first transportation secretary to hold a prior cabinet position, and the first Asian American to hold that position. When he stepped down on July 7, 2006, he was the longest-serving transportation secretary since the creation of that cabinet post in 1967.
Mineta is remembered most for his actions during and after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks – shutting down the nation’s airspace and grounding all commercial flights until the threat of attack subsided. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in December 2006 partly due to his actions during the September 11 attacks.
“His guidance in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks – both immediately and in long-term response – is just one example of his strong and consistent leadership in a time of great need,” noted Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, in a statement.
“Secretary Mineta’s lifetime service to his country, his ability to work with people across the political divide, his far-reaching knowledge, and his reputation as a leader who would get the job done are all part of his profound legacy,” Tymon added. “We are grateful for all he gave to make our communities better and safer and know his impact on the transportation industry will live on for decades to come.”
Following his stint as transportation secretary, Mineta served as vice chair for Hill+Knowlton and vice chair of L&L Energy. He also went on to found the Mineta Transportation Institute, served as chair of a panel of the National Academy of Public Administration overseeing a study of modernization efforts at the U.S. Coast Guard, and served as co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.
He is survived by his wife, Danealia ‘Deni’ Mineta; two sons, David K. Mineta and Stuart S. Mineta; two stepsons, Robert M. Brantner and Mark D. Brantner; and 11 grandchildren.