Norman Mineta

is appointment as Transportation Secretary in 2001 won a 100-0 senate nod following a lovefest confirmation hearing. Politicians on both sides of the aisle, as well as the media, fell all over one another to applaud the selection. It was a rare instance in American political life when the applause was entirely sincere — Norman Mineta was easily the most qualified candidate for the post. Not only had he served on the House Transportation committee for virtually all of his 20 years in Congress, he had chaired it with great skill during his final two terms before leaving to join defense contractor Lockheed-Martin as a top executive.

     While some Asian Americans were ambivalent about Elaine Chao's appointment, most were enthusiastic about Norman Mineta's. He had shown himself to be a doughty champion of Asian American causes. As a congressman he had co-founded the Congressional Asian American Caucus and spearheaded passage of the Japanese-American reparations bill.

     Then came September 11.

     The Bush Administration's rush to shore up American confidence in domestic security — especially airline security — meant that Norman Mineta would be thrust into the limelight. It was a rare opportunity for an AA male to be shown playing a central role in the running of American society. But some Asian Americans were disappointed to see Mineta being overshadowed in media coverage by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft and even National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

     One reason for Mineta's faltering media image may be George Bush's initial decision to oppose federalization of airport security personnel. Mineta, a democrat, was tasked with selling Congress on the more laissez-faire Republican version of the Airport Security bill which didn't sit well with an American public desperate for the strongest possible response to the terrorist threat. Mineta's media image suffered more erosion in December when he issued a statement assuring existing airport security employees that they would be retained regardless of their educational levels. Equally unpopular is his refusal to sanction greater security scrutiny for Arab passengers.

     By January of 2002 the dream Asian American cabinet officer seemed on the verge of becoming another Judge Lance Ito — an Asian male public figure derided, fairly or not, for failing to show a requisite degree of firmness and strength in a dicey situation.


     But Mineta's personal history shows him to be a daring, dedicated and skilled political player who has always managed to end up on top.

     Norman Y. Mineta was born November 12, 1931 in San Jose, California to immigrant parents. Following U.S. entry into the World War II, the entire Mineta family was interned for two years, along with 120,000 other Americans of Japanese ancestry. Norman attended UC Berkeley and graduated with a B.S. in business, then served in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1956 as an intelligence officer. Back in civilian life he worked ably for his father's insurance agency before becoming the first minority to win a seat on the SJ City Council in 1967.

     In 1971 Mineta broke another barrier by becoming the first Asian American mayor of a major city. In 1975 Mineta was elected to Congress from a district that was over 80% white. Mineta led the long push for passage of H.R. 442, the J-A Reparations bill signed into law in 1988. Mineta served on the Public Works and Transportation Committee for 20 years, chairing it with a strong hand from 1992 until democrats lost congress in 1994. He decided against seeking another term, and in 1975 joined Lockheed -Martin as a senior vice-president. In 2000 Mineta was tapped to serve as Commerce Secretary during the final six months of the Clinton Administration.

     In June of 2006 Norman Mineta announced his resignation from his post as Transportation Secretary. Three days after his resignation became effective on July 7, Mineta joined the Washington public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton as a partner. Mineta is married to a blonde former United Airlines flight attendant named Danealia. He has four sons, including two stepsons.

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Norman Mineta

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta answers questions from the media about air safety after a news conference announcing a $17.6 million grant for Lambert International Airport, Thursday, May 16, 2002, at the airport in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

“By January of 2002 the dream Asian American cabinet officer seemed on the verge of becoming another Judge Lance Ito.”

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