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Norman Yoshio Mineta

MATTHEW L. WALD / New York Times 3jan01


PROFILE: Norman Y. Mineta

BORN: Nov. 12, 1931, in San Jose, Calif.

HOMETOWN: San Jose.

EDUCATION: San Jose High School; B.S., University of California.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Insurance agent and broker, 1956-89; member, San Jose City Council, 1967-71; vice mayor of San Jose, 1968-71; mayor of San Jose, 1971-74; member, United States House of Representatives, 1975- 1995; senior vice president, transportation and services division, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Oct. 1995-July 2000; secretary of commerce, July 2000-present.

FAMILY: Married to Danealia Brantner; two sons and two stepsons.

HOBBIES: Boating, photography and reading.


WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 Norman Y. Mineta's life has recently been a story of second chances, from President-elect George W. Bush's choice of him today as transportation secretary, to a fan's gift of a baseball bat replacing the one taken from him as a child bound for an internment camp.

Mr. Mineta was offered the transportation job eight years ago, by Bill Clinton. He was then a member of Congress from San Jose, Calif., and decided to stay in the House of Representatives, to head the Public Works and Transportation Committee, as it was then known.

"He was genuinely torn he very much wanted to do both," a former member of his staff in the House said.

Had Mr. Mineta known that he would lose the chairmanship two years later with the Democrats' loss of their majority in the House, he would probably have taken the cabinet job, said the former staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Today Mr. Mineta appeared to get a second chance on the cabinet post.

The baseball bat was his prize possession as a 10-year-old. He had it with him when he and his family, identity tags hanging from their coats, waited to be exiled from San Jose to internment camps for Japanese-Americans, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As he stood on a train station platform, an M.P. confiscated the bat as a weapon.

Years later, as a member of Congress, he sponsored successful legislation to compensate and apologize to the former internees, one of his few legislative accomplishments outside the field of transportation.

A Los Angeles man who heard the story of the bat sent another one to Mr. Mineta's Capitol Hill office, with a note that Mr. Mineta seemed to deserve it.

"Some guy that he doesn't even know sends him one of Hank Aaron's bats that he hit I-don't-know what- number home runs with," an executive who worked with Mr. Mineta said later.

But when he found out the bat was valued at $1,500, exceeding the $250 maximum value that members could accept under House rules, Mr. Mineta regretfully sent it back. He told a reporter at the time, "The damn government's taken my bat again."

In 1995, he retired from the House after 21 years in office, and the fan sent the bat back to him.

By all accounts, Mr. Mineta is better prepared for the transportation job than his predecessors were. After leaving the House, he became a vice president of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, a major government contractor in transportation and defense.

He also headed the 21-member National Civil Aviation Review Commission, established by Congress to examine the growing crisis in air transport.

The commission, which released its report in December 1997, was one of the first official sources to use the word "gridlock," said John M. Meenhan, senior vice president of the Air Transport Association, an airline trade group.

"Now," Mr. Meenhan said, "we find ourselves peeking over the horizon at gridlock every summer."

The choice of Mr. Mineta would make the cabinet bipartisan. A member of the Bush transition team said Mr. Mineta's nomination had been supported by the White House chief of staff-designate, Andrew H. Card Jr., who was transportation secretary in the administration of George W. Bush's father, and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, who served in Congress with Mr. Mineta.

But Mr. Mineta made clear in brief remarks today that, for him, transportation was not a partisan field.

"There are no Democratic or Republican highways, no such thing as a Republican or Democratic traffic congestion," he said.

In fact, some experts say, Transportation Department concerns like the routes of new highways can be intensely political, but they do not always divide people along party lines.

Charles M. Barclay, president of the American Association of Airport Executives, said Mr. Mineta and Newt Gingrich were "to this day great friends," and worked well together when Mr. Gingrich later known as a highly partisan Republican speaker of the House was the ranking minority member on the aviation subcommittee under Mr. Mineta.

Still, in Congress Mr. Mineta took some positions on transportation issues that were not generally on the Republican agenda, including protection of workers hurt by airline mergers.

Advocates of mass transit also believe they may have an ally in him. At one such group, the Surface Transportation Policy Project, Roy Kienitz, the executive director, said that Mr. Mineta's California district had been one of the first to face the highway congestion now prevalent nationally, and that he had supported alternatives to new road construction.

Around the country, Mr. Kienitz said, "people are figuring out now that just building more roads doesn't work."

Mr. Mineta, he added, "is going to be well positioned to help people deal with that transition."

Mr. Kienitz was not alone in expressing confidence. Today people in a variety of fields, including aviation and trucking, said they thought that Mr. Mineta would be amenable to their causes.

Since July, Mr. Mineta has been secretary of commerce. He seems to relish being in the cabinet, said an aide who left the White House a few weeks ago for private industry.

"When is the last time a commerce secretary got out there and was the presenter of the census?" the aide asked. "He likes the limelight."

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