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ARSA Remembers – Norman Mineta

Secretary Norman Mineta receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.

Norman Mineta, the first Asian American to become a federal cabinet secretary, died at his home in Edgewater, Maryland on May 3. He was 90.

Mineta’s statesmanship served the nation beginning in the late 1960s as a San Jose, CA city councilman. He became mayor in 1971, serving one term before successfully running for Congress. Serving eleven terms in the House of Representatives, he briefly moved to the private sector before becoming Secretary of Commerce for President Clinton and then to head the Department of Transportation for President Bush.

He was Secretary of Transportation during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, ordering commercial flights immediately grounded after the use of three airliners – and attempted use of a fourth – to strike the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

His influence was gained through personal relationships and humanity rather than politics. He sought information and knowledge that served the public and was recognized for his compassionate and thoughtful approach to contentious issues. He was respected and revered on both sides of the aisle, a wonderful human being who will be remembered for the outstanding service to his country in spite (or because) of suffering the indignity of ethnical interment during World War II.

“I had the privilege and honor of working with Secretary Mineta when he served as Chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and other important aviation positions,” recalled Marshall S. Filler, ARSA managing director and general counsel. “He was a thoughtful leader, rarely partisan and never divisive.”

The personal interest he took of those in his sphere was evidenced during attendance at an early ARSA board meeting. He not only ate dinner with the group but spent his entire evening listening and learning of aviation maintenance concerns. Years later, he still remembered that meeting and the association. “We passed each other on a hotel escalator,” Sarah MacLeod ARSA executive director remembers with deep respect, “Then Secretary of Transportation, Mineta called out ‘hey, Sarah, how are those repair stations doing?”

The country has missed his statesmanship since his retirement from public services, but it needs to remember and honor his legacy and contributions.



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