Norman Y. Mineta, who established himself as a giant of transportation policy in the Bay Area and across the nation, died Tuesday at age 90 at his home in Maryland.
During his long career, he served as a San Jose City Council member and mayor, represented the South Bay in Congress for two decades, shepherded the passage of the landmark Intermodal Surface Transportation Act of 1991, served as Commerce Secretary under Bill Clinton and Transportation Secretary under George W. Bush, and founded the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University.
MTC Commissioner Dorene Giacopini, who was a field representative in Mineta's San Jose congressional office during the late 1980s and early 1990s and has served since 1995 as the U.S. Department of Transportation's representative to the Commission, praised her former boss for his advocacy of transportation and civil rights. "Norm understood that transportation is more than concrete and steel. It's about people."
Referring to the World War II era, during which the preteen Mineta and his Japanese-American family were forced to leave their home and family business in San Jose for a Wyoming internment camp, Giacopini noted, "Norm understood from personal experience the importance of treating everyone fairly, and that helped him make the connection between transportation and civil rights. He was instrumental in shaping and passing the legislation that provided restitution to Japanese-Americans to redress their treatment by the government in the 1940s. He also shaped the transportation elements in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that passed into law in 1990. Looking back after more than 30 years, we can see the transportation components of the ADA are among the most successful parts of the whole law. All the public transit buses are now accessible; and we have Norm to thank.
"That's not to say Norm didn't also believe in concrete and steel," Giacopini continued. "He was instrumental in securing the funds to complete Highway 85, Highway 87 and the VTA light-rail system, among many other accomplishments. He stressed accessibility and accountability, and he lived up to that every day. He was very kind and generous with his time, especially when it came to sharing wisdom with student groups."
Frequently referred to by his staff as "Uncle Norm," Mineta is remembered fondly by Giacopini. "He was a really silly guy, and a lot of fun to work for. We teased him unmercifully about driving his giant Oldsmobile Delta 88, but he refused to give it up."
Mineta was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President George W. Bush in 2006. The San Jose International Airport was renamed the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport in 2001.