Norman Mineta, who broke racial barriers for Asian Americans serving in high-profile government posts and ordered commercial flights grounded after the 9/11 terror attacks as the nation's federal transportation secretary, died Tuesday. He was 90. John Flaherty, Mineta’s former chief of staff, said Mineta died peacefully at his home surrounded by family in Edgewater, Maryland, east of the nation's capital, the AP reports. “His cause of death was a heart ailment," Flaherty added. “He was an extraordinary public servant and a very dear friend." Mineta broke racial barriers for Asian Americans in becoming mayor of San Jose, Calif., early in his political career. He later became the first Asian American to become a federal Cabinet secretary, serving under both Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican George W. Bush.
Bush went on to award Mineta the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In a statement, the former president said Mineta was "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. 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,” the former president said. 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.
The son of Japanese immigrants who spent two years of his childhood at a World War II internment camp, Mineta began his political career leading his hometown of San Jose before joining the Clinton administration as commerce secretary and then crossing party lines to serve in 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 US 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. It was the first such order given in US aviation history. Mineta was subsequently tasked with restoring confidence in air travel in the aftermath of the terror attacks. He oversaw the hasty creation of the Transportation Security Administration, which took over responsibility for aviation security from the airlines.
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