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Former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta Passes Away at 90

Norman mineta
Norman Mineta (left) receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, 2006 (National Archives)

Published May 4, 2022 9:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary and Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta, a leader in transport and aviation, passed away on May 3 at the age of 90 from a heart ailment.

Mineta was the son of two Japanese immigrants, and his family was held in an internment camp in Wyoming during WWII. After the war, he attended the University of California at Berkeley and entered the Army, serving overseas in Japan and Korea. He was elected major of the city of San Jose, California in 1971, becoming the first Japanese-American mayor of a large American city. He ran for a House seat representing San Jose and was reelected 10 times, and he capped off his time in the House with a brief stint as chairman of the Transportation committee. After the Republican Party took the House majority in 1994, he lost his chairmanship, and the next year he stepped down from his post and joined Lockheed Martin's transportation division as senior vice president.

In 1999, Mineta was nominated by then- President Bill Clinton to serve as Secretary of Commerce, becoming the first Asian-American to hold a cabinet-level position. When President George W. Bush won the 2000 election, he appointed Mineta as Secretary of Transportation, a role he would hold for five and a half years - the longest tenure of any official in that post. Mineta, who liked to say that “there is no such thing as a Democratic highway or a Republican bridge,” became one of just a handful of cabinet members to serve back-to-back appointments in the administrations of different political parties.

Mineta was among the administration officials involved in the immediate response to the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and after the second strike on the World Trade Center, he made the unprecedented order to recall all flights in U.S. airspace to ground in order to avert further strikes. Over the next two years, he guided the creation of the sprawling Transportation Security Administration (TSA) until its transfer to the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security. 

After his retirement from government in 2006, Mineta joined the public relations company Hill & Knowlton as its vice chairman. He also served as co-chairman of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI), and he chaired an external study on the modernization of the U.S. Coast Guard. In recognition of his leadership, he was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and Japan's Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun.

“The transportation community lost a leader, a trailblazer, and a friend with the passing of former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta. Secretary Mineta was a champion for transportation and understood its impact on the quality of life of our communities and its ability to enable economic growth,” said Jim Tymon, AASHTO executive director. “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. 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. 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.”