HomeAsian AmericansFormer San Jose Mayor, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta Dies at 90

Former San Jose Mayor, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta Dies at 90


Former San Jose Mayor and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta passed away Tuesday at the age of 90.

John Flaherty, his former chief of staff, told the Washington Post that Mineta died of heart failure.

Mineta was born in San Jose, California, in 1932. He was among the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. He and his family were sent to the Heart Mountain internment camp.

After the war, Mineta graduated from San Jose High School and got his bachelor’s degree from the University of California Berkeley, The Mercury News reports.

According to The Mercury News, his sister Helen said before her death that he had been a Republican in college. He became a Democrat as he slowly got involved in local politics.

In 1967, Mineta became the first person of color to serve on the San Jose city council. In 1971, he was elected mayor of San Jose. He became the first Asian American person to lead a U.S. city, CBS SF Bay Area reports.

After serving three years as mayor, Mineta went on to spend 20 years in Congress. During the final days of Bill Clinton’s administration, he served as the Secretary of Commerce.

When George W. Bush was elected in 2000, Mineta became the only Democrat on the cabinet, serving as Secretary of Transportation, The Mercury News reports. He helped lead the country through 9/11, issuing an order to ground all flights after the towers fell, CBS SF Bay Area reports.

Mineta once said his life was influenced by his time spent incarcerated at Heart Mountain.

“A lot of what I am today is really that 10-plus-year-old kid who got on that train on the 29th of May 1942,” Mineta said in a 1995 interview. “I had my baseball glove and my baseball and my baseball cap, and as I’m getting on the train the MPs confiscate my bat on the basis it could be used as a lethal weapon.”

Political figures across the country have begun to honor Mineta upon news of his death.

“San Jose’s favorite son has left us and I’m crushed,” California Assemblymember Ash Kalra said in a tweet.

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