Norman Mineta, a former mayor, lawmaker and cabinet secretary who served under two presidents, has died at the age of 90.
Mineta, who passed away from a heart ailment on May 3 in Edgewater, Maryland, is survived by his wife, four children and 11 grandchildren.
Mineta was the first Japanese American cabinet member, first serving as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of commerce from 2000-2001 and as President George W. Bush’s secretary of transportation from 2001-2006.
Under Bush’s cabinet, he became known for his decisive leadership after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He immediately closed U.S. airspace and ordered all flights to be grounded, the first such order in U.S. history. He also issued statements to several national airlines to warning them to avoid discriminating against Arabs and Muslims.
He also spearheaded the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the wake of the tragedy, for which the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport was named in his honor.
Prior to his cabinet positions, Mineta had served as San Jose’s mayor from 1971-1975. He then went on to become a congressman, representing the South Bay in the House from 1975-1995. As a lawmaker, he founded the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
In a statement, incumbent San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo recalled how Mineta became his mentor and influenced his political aspirations.
“Norm Mineta gave me my start in public service as an 18-year-old intern in his Washington congressional office. Like so many of those fortunate to have worked with Norm, I learned enormously from his calm leadership style, his deadpan humor, and his sincere love for public service.”
State Sen. Dave Cortese (D, CA-15) also released a statement about Mineta’s passing: “I’m deeply saddened to hear the news of the passing of Norman Mineta, someone I was honored to call a friend and mentor. Secretary Mineta embodied what it means to be a public servant and was an inspiration to countless leaders, including myself. His legacy will leave a lasting impression for years to come.”
Port of Seattle Commissioner Sam Cho, who similarly looks up to Mineta as a mentor and inspiration, wrote a lengthy post on Instagram after his death: “Norm Mineta was one of my heroes. He literally paved the way for me to be where I am. He founded the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) in the 90’s when Asian Americans weren’t getting an audience with the President; many years later I became an APAICS Fellow and got my start in politics and public policy.”
Mineta was born in San Jose on Nov. 12, 1931, to Japanese immigrant parents, Kunisaku Mineta and Kane Watanabe. Due to the Asian Exclusion Act, both his parents were barred from becoming U.S. citizens at that time.
During World War II, he was interned with his family and tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans at a camp in Wyoming.
After studying business administration at the University of California, Berkeley, he went on to serve in the U.S. Army as an intelligence officer.
Feature Image via Library of Congress