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

Former Transportation Secretary, San Jose Mayor Norman Mineta dies at 90 03:06

SAN JOSE – Norman Y. Mineta, former Secretary of Transportation, member of Congress and Mayor of San Jose, died Tuesday at the age of 90.

Mineta's former chief of staff told The Washington Post, who first reported the story, that Mineta died at his home in Maryland due to a heart ailment.

Born in 1931 in San Jose, Mineta and his family were among 120,000 Japanese Americans who were forced into internment camps during World War II.

Following the war, he returned to San Jose, graduated UC Berkeley and served in the Army as an intelligence officer.

In 1971, Mineta was elected mayor of San Jose, the first Asian American to lead a major U.S. city after serving four years on the City Council.

Three years later, he was elected to the first of 10 terms in Congress. His accomplishments included chairing the House Transportation Committee and championing legislation offering a formal apology and compensation to Japanese Americans who were in internment camps.

Grace Kurbota Ybarra, a friend of Mineta, told KPIX 5 that she first met him when they were both interned at Heart Mountain, Wyoming after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and then later on in law school.

Kurbota Ybarra said his work to get redress money and an apology for all Japanese Americans has elevated him to special status in the community.

"We have always felt that the redress was an important part of just saying as a country, our country — we lived by the Constitution. That's what we believed in — but they had said 'we apologize' and that meant more than anything else. And Norman helped us do that," Kurbota Ybarra told KPIX 5.

"He was always, for lack of a better word, humble," she went on to say. "If he walked into a room - you wouldn't know that he sat with the presidents of this country."

Mineta also served as Secretary of Commerce during the closing days of President Bill Clinton's administration. After George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election, Mineta became the lone Democrat on the Republican's cabinet, serving as Secretary of Transportation.

In 2001, San Jose International Airport was renamed after Mineta.

During his tenure as Transportation Secretary, Mineta led the department in its response to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, issuing an unprecedented order to ground all flights in U.S. airspace. In the months after, Mineta helped lead the creation of the Transportation Security Administration.

From former presidents, to local lawmakers, tributes have poured in for Mineta upon news of his passing.

Former President Bill Clinton called Mineta an "extraordinary public servant."

"I will always be proud to have nominated him as Secretary of Commerce, making him the first Asian American Cabinet member in our nation's history. I'm grateful for his fine service and his friendship, and glad President George W. Bush kept him on, giving him the chance to again make history as America's longest serving Transportation Secretary," Clinton said.

Former President George W. Bush said, "Norm's is a wonderful American story about someone who overcame hardship and prejudice to serve in the United States Army, Congress, and the Cabinet of two Presidents."

"As my Secretary of Transportation, he showed great leadership in helping prevent further attacks on and after 9/11," Bush went on to say. "As I said when presenting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Norm has given his country a lifetime of service, and he's given his fellow citizens an example of leadership, devotion to duty, and personal character."

"His experience, expertise and his devotion to our country will be deeply missed," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein. "California and our country lost a true statesman today. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones during this difficult time."

Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents the South Bay in Congress, called Mineta one of his personal heroes.

"As the first Asian American Cabinet official, he was a trailblazer and his counsel and mentorship on transportation issues is something I'll always cherish," Khanna said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said California and the nation had lost "an inspiring trailblazer and champion."

"A first-generation Japanese American, Secretary Mineta not only made our country safer following the 9/11 attacks, he brought us closer together through his vital work strengthening transit and highways," Newsom said.

Sam Liccardo, San Jose's current mayor, was a former intern of Mineta in his congressional office in Washington.

"San José has lost a great champion, and I have lost a deeply admired mentor," Liccardo said. "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."

"Norm's legacy is one steadfast defense of our civil liberties, and defense of our nation in the perilous hours of 9/11," Liccardo went on to say. "Whenever Norm was asked about his incredible career, which took him to our nation's highest offices, he never forgot where he was from: "My favorite title," he'd often tell people, "was always 'Mr. Mayor.'"

"San Jose's favorite son has left us and I'm crushed," Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) said in a tweet noting his passing.

State Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) also expressed his condolences.

"Secretary Mineta embodied what it means to be a public servant and was an inspiration to countless leaders, including myself," Cortese said.

According to the Post, Mineta is survived by his wife, Danealia Brantner, two sons from his first marriage, two stepsons and 11 grandchildren.

Andria Borba contributed reporting.


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