In a move that surprised many in Washington, President Bush this morning asked Norman Y. Mineta to stay on as Secretary of Transportation. Bush also asked Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson and Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao to remain in their posts as well.
The move comes amid the usual Cabinet reshuffle that accompanies a president’s second term. More than half of the cabinet’s 15 posts are changing hands, and speculation was mounting about Mineta’s fate especially because Marion Blakely, the Federal Aviation Administration administrator, and Mary Peters, who runs the Federal Highway Administration, were being discussed in political circles as his replacement. Mineta’s deputy, Kirk Van Tine, resigned earlier this week, which fueled even more speculation about the Secretary’s departure.
Many thought Mineta, 73, might leave for health reasons. In November 2002, he was hospitalized with severe back pain caused by an infection and exacerbated by curvature of his spine. He underwent surgery and spent three months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he ran the department from a specially equipped room used by top government officials while under hospital care. His aides say he has fully recovered.
Mineta became the first Asian-American cabinet member when President Bill Clinton named him Commerce Secretary in 2000. He and his family were held in U.S. detention camps along with 120,000 other Japanese-Americans during World War II. Mineta served as a member of the San Jose City Council from 1967 to 1971 and mayor from 1971 to 1974. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 to 1995 and served as chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee between 1992 and 1994. He chaired its Surface Transportation Subcommittee from 1989 to 1991.
The Secretary has several facilities named after him including the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International, and the Norman Y. Mineta International Institute for Surface Transportation Policy Studies created by Congress and established at the San Jose State University College of Business.
As the only Democrat in the Bush cabinet, Mineta has maintained a non-partisan stance on issues. He said at the time of his appointment: “There are no Democratic or Republican highways, no such thing as Republican or Democratic traffic congestion.”