Norman Mineta, transportation secretary in 9/11 era, dies
“His cause was a heart attack,” Flaherty said. “He was an exceptional public servant and a dear friend. “
“As my Secretary of Transportation, he showed great leadership in helping prevent further attacks on and after 9/11. The former president stated that Norm had given his country a lifetime of military service and that he has shown his fellow citizens leadership, devotion to duty, personal character, and leadership. Mineta was born to Japanese immigrants and spent two years of his childhood in a World War II internment Camp. He began his political career as a leader of his hometown of San Jose, before joining the Clinton administration in commerce secretary. After that, he crossed party lines to join Bush’s Cabinet.
As Bush’s transportation secretary, Mineta led the department during the crisis of Sept. 11, 2001, as hijacked commercial airliners barreled toward U.S. landmarks. After a second plane crashed into the World Trade Center, Mineta ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to ground all civilian aircraft — more than 4,500 in flight at the time. This was the first such order in American aviation history.
Mineta was then given the task of restoring confidence in air travel after the terrorist attacks. He was responsible for the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which took over the responsibility for aviation security from airlines.
Within a year, the TSA hired tens to thousands of airport screeners, placed air marshals on commercial flight, and installed high-tech equipment for screening passengers and their luggage for explosives. The effort was criticized for being wasteful and creating long lines at airports. Mineta, who is well-respected and loved in Washington for his deep knowledge on transportation issues, was able to escape the brunt.
In 2006, he resigned at age 74 after 5 and 1/2 years in his post, making him the longest-serving transportation secretary since the agency was created in 1967.
Born on Nov. 12, 1931, Norman Yoshio Mineta was 10 and wearing his Cub Scouts uniform when he and his parents were transported to be incarcerated in Wyoming after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a bachelor’s in business administration. He also served as an Army intelligence officer in Korea, and Japan. After three years in the military, he returned home to San Jose to manage his father’s Mineta Insurance Agency.
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. The airport now bears his name.
Mineta was elected to Congress in 1974 and served 10 terms representing Silicon Valley. He pushed for increased funding for the FAA, and co-authored a landmark bill that gave state and local governments control of mass transit and highway 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 called again five years later when Clinton appointed him as commerce secretary in the last months of his presidency.
Mineta was then the first cabinet secretary who made the direct switch from a Democratic administration to a Republican one. He was Bush’s only Democrat.
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 became vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton and settled in Maryland with his wife Danealia.
Chea reported from San Francisco.
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