Editor’s Note: San Jose Legends is a new series that tells remarkable stories of the historic and legendary people who helped shape and transform our city.
The morning after Norm Mineta broke barriers by becoming San Jose’s first Asian-American mayor, he woke up to a racist message sprawled on the garage door of his Japantown home.
“Someone had spray-painted ‘J-A-P,’” Mineta told San José Spotlight, referring to the World War II-era Japanese slur.
But Mineta had to quickly get over it, and “stored it away” to deal with city issues. San Jose entered a post-World War II development boom, transforming it from a farm town to a quickly developing city that stressed public services. Mineta halted previous policies of expansion, opting to redirect services back to underserved areas such as the city center, and east and south San Jose.
It was the first of many critical decisions Mineta, 89, made.
Three years after waking up to the racist slur, he won a Congressional contest in 1974 and went on to win his next nine House elections, serving the 13th and then 15th districts for 18 years.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton appointed Mineta to become the Secretary of Commerce, the first Asian American to ever hold the office. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Mineta to become Secretary of Transportation, a position he served in until 2006—the longest of any transportation secretary, and the only Democrat in the Bush cabinet. His time in the department…